Project Practitioners > Highlights - Creating an Environment for Successful Projects

Highlights - Creating an Environment for Successful Projects

By Randy Englund

Organizations that get better results from its projects make consistent and continuing efforts to nourish the environment for selecting and executing projects. The process can start with a survey to assess the project environment and continue by taking action on findings. The point is to apply a systematic approach that covers all areas, reinforces strengths, and gets results. Organizations increasingly find the need to get better outcomes from projects because that is where wealth-creation or survival comes from. A suggestion is to embrace the tenets of a project-based organization where:

  • Projects create the means to generate profits and shareholder value
  • People enter into relations determined by problems rather than by structure
  • Cross-functional teams assemble to achieve a specific mission, with specific time and budget constraints
  • Everyone is attuned and trained to support projects

Creating Organizational Effectiveness

Despite many [repeated] attempts to create it within organizations, there is no one organizational structure that fits all situations, nor is there ever a perfect organization. There will always be trade-offs and differences of opinion about how to structure any organization for the tasks ahead. Much of the literature in this area tries to help pick an optimum structure depending on the situation. In reviewing the options, many people desire more flexibility within their organizations; this is not uncommon. Many organizations are still stuck in archaic structures. Managers often obsess over organizational structures and engage in reorganization exercises, even more so than ensuring the means are in place to execute strategy. As participants in this arena, we are well served by bringing visibility to alternative approaches and being open to experimentation. Asking questions and suggesting options can prompt further dialogue. Trying new approaches is highly dependent on enlightened leadership and a willingness to be pioneers.

As a longtime proponent of project, program, and portfolio management, I am biased towards a project-based organization (PBO). I believe adopting a whole-hearted approach focused on projects would serve most situations much better than current approaches. However, wide scale adoption of PBOs is still slow in coming. A company like HP, where I previously worked, is a combination of operations and projects. Many organizations are well served by a hybrid approach—having a functional organization for routine operations and a projectized organization for project-based work such as developing new products or doing projects for clients. This way projects do not have to compete with other work for resources and management attention. It's best if people are assigned full time in one area or another, not having to shift between operations and projects.

I also believe an organic approach—in the implementation of project management, to establishing a culture, and to organizational structures—is preferred because it more readily adapts to living organisms. Organizational charts are flexible or non-existent. Natural, organic processes and structures which evolve or fit how people better work together have the potential to create more harmony, less stress, and better results. But people who desire more structure may be uncomfortable in an organic environment. Established practices and long-term values may need changing if projects appear as "foreign objects" within the system and do not get the support they require.

An Environmental Assessment Survey Instrument (EASI) provides clues as to how effective are the current environment and organizational structure. Our effectiveness as project leaders will be highly dependent on our environments. It is important to continue absorbing other ideas through studies and ad hoc forums and conference sessions, and then put together an action plan. Tailor actions to the specifics of a structure and culture. Benchmark scores help determine where we are compared to other organizations. Use the data and action plans to communicate with stakeholders about the need and means to build upon strengths and improve project environments.

The intent is to assess the current environment and then identify practices that can be adopted, adapted, and applied within an organization. A sample filled in planning template provides example action steps that may help increase competitive advantage. The goal is to describe efforts that contribute to creating an environment more conducive to project success. Another choice is to exercise options to go elsewhere in search of better operating conditions.

One piece of advice I strongly advocate as a take-away from this discussion is: ensure that the organizational structure does not get in the way of doing projects. Setting people up in functional silos that are isolated from each other, rigid chains of command, excessive reports, indirect communication channels, and ineffective metrics are examples of potential obstacles. By recognizing the value of projects and establishing priorities for project work, project leaders and their teams can exercise initiative and find a way through the structure to get work done. In addition, clarity of vision, effective processes, well defined roles and responsibilities, the right people assigned to tasks—these are elements that lead to optimized results.

A complete project manager realizes the transformational effects of paying attention to and creating an effective operating environment. An environment that supports project work is probably the single most important factor that affects the probability of success of every project. Several ways to do this are:

  • Be sensitive to cultural factors, knowing the variability of values that exist in different cultures.
  • Seek to create a culture of productivity.
  • Embrace chaos as a natural operating state.
  • Understand the patterns that exist in nature and how people behave.
  • Create opportunities for conditions that expose project personnel to a variety of best practices. These initial conditions, such as assessments, training sessions, dialogue with others, or consulting, may lead to enormous changes in the operating environment.
  • Use survey instruments to assess the environment and create action plans that honor and have a high probability of success in your organization. Then take action…and reap the benefits!


Creating an Environment for Successful Projects: Third Edition (Englund and Graham, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2019) guides readers to construct an environment in which projects are more successful. Its contribution fills the void for advanced project managers and managers of project managers on how to develop project management as an organizational practice. The book adds to the foundation provided by the project management body of knowledge by identifying, arguing for, and presenting examples of the conditions required for project managers and teams to apply their trade. Knowledge and procedures are not enough if the environment is toxic; practitioners need to systematically address the vital space where all conditions are present to create value through project-based work.

Any attempt at systematic change needs to include arguments about why these approaches are important and provide examples of how people implement the concepts. Put forward reasons in support of a systematic point of view. An assessment instrument, review tools, and templates ease and assist the task to begin. Profuse examples illustrate the possibilities, commitment, and thoroughness required to be successful. Ever present is the theme that all managers need to be authentic, act with integrity, and model desired behaviors.


Creating an Environment for Successful Projects is for managers concerned about getting better results from projects within their organizations. Other books and writings create intense  awareness about what to do; this book advances the knowledge and practice by passionately including why environmental conditions need to improve and describing how some organizations implement the concepts. Englund and Graham provide “second-level anecdotes” that describe how to get started and illustrate creative ways to adapt and apply potent practices. We share details of an organizational process of support for project management as practiced by leading companies, including proven practices implemented by Hewlett-Packard (HP) and other top companies. The final chapter summarizes steps applicable to any organization. The Epilogue adds a change management process for applying leadership to evolve a project-based organization. Appendices provide tables and figures to help implement the concepts covered.

Create 3rd Components
The cohesive theme is to assemble the pieces of a puzzle that represent an environment for successful projects. The book devotes a chapter for each piece in order to enhance understanding of the components:

  • Lead change to a project-based organization. Recognize the value that project outcomes provide to the organization. Realize that a project or program-based organization is key to survival. Support cultural changes to revitalize the organization around projects. Organize upper managers in teams that model desired
  • Link projects to strategy. Clearly link each project to organizational goals. Use a prioritization process that everyone understands and supports. Develop and run the organization according to a plan of record.

Example: Categorize projects into strategic “buckets” that fulfill organizational goals, determine what percent of the whole goes into each bucket (in dollars or other resources), prioritize projects according to criteria within each bucket, and resource projects in priority order until resources within that bucket are used up. The effect is a “do it all” balanced portfolio…but not doing all projects.

  • Understand upper management influence. Recognize that many upper managers did not have the benefit of the current body of knowledge about project management and may be guided by the “old story” about running an organization, such as commands and control. The “new story” is an organic organization based around projects. Support the planning process. Negotiate reasonable deadlines. Be careful to support, not interfere, in times of anxiety (when most management mistakes are made!). Reward desired behaviors on projects.
  • Implement a core team process. Define a core team that directs and stays together during the entire project—knowledge workers are not interchangeable parts. Support trust building, and clearly define roles and responsibilities.
  • Organize for project management. Set up systems that focus on results, not controls. Provide the necessary scoping and authority to project managers. Align projects with customers, and involve end-users throughout projects. Design effective decision-making processes. Recognize that there is no one perfect organizational structure. Ensure at least that the organization does not get in the way of doing projects.
  • Design a project management information system. Use information to relieve anxiety. Ask stakeholders how they will use the information and provide the right information at the right time to answer those questions. Eliminate benefits of poor communications by placing greater value on good communications. Highlight interdependencies of projects across the
  • Select and develop project managers. Put leaders at the helm who have an aptitude for producing results by working with people and who are trained in the profession of project management. Be careful not to support the accidental project manager syndrome—promoting people into the profession because of achievement in other areas or because he or she suggested the project. The project manager skill set is
  • Cultivate a learning organization. View each project as an opportunity to produce a result plus improve the project management process. Perform project reviews and take action on key findings. Make learning a priority. Develop organizational project management competency. Set expectations that working on projects is a positive experience and can be fun. Implement a “gardener’s” approach to the environment.

Example: A gardener cannot command a tree to grow. He or she creates environmental conditions that support the tree to flourish…soil, nutrition, air, and sun.

  • Develop a project management initiative or project office. Organizations improve their ability to get results when they make a concerted effort to get better at doing projects. Form a group to lead the continuous improvement of project management across the organization by offering training, consulting, facilitation, and sharing of best practices. See Creating the Project Office: a Manager’s Guide to Leading Organizational Change, Englund, Graham, Dinsmore (Jossey-Bass, 2003).
  • Create an environment for project management in your organization. Focus on the project environment and culture. Develop a project management initiative. Assess the current state, benchmark with others, define an improvement plan, implement changes and track progress. Recognize the contributions of program and project managers and the value of the project management process. Invest in

The recurring theme, and glue, that holds the pieces together within any organization is the authenticity and integrity displayed by its leaders. Authenticity means that managers believe what they say. Integrity means that they do what they say they will do, and for the reasons they originally stated. Demonstrating these values in action often makes the difference between success and failure. Avoid  “integrity crimes” where people feel violated by  actions inconsistent with words. Demonstrate through a project portfolio management process, driven by upper managers working together as a team, how each project contributes to organizational strategic goals. Managers  who do not “walk the talk” seldom motivate people to follow them. By linking intentions, words, and actions, authenticity and integrity connect the head and the heart. They help leaders establish credibility among followers. A legitimate leader achieves the  ultimate  reward: recognition by followers that the leader is credible and worthy of following.

Go to, click on “Offerings” and “Assessment” to see the Environmental Assessment Survey Instrument (EASI). The survey is also available at This survey steps each person through the ten pieces of the puzzle and produces a score for how well projects are supported. This data may be benchmarked against other organizations and provide the basis for action planning to create an environment for more successful projects. This data provides an effective means to get the attention of other managers about the current state, especially in data-driven organizations. Follow-on discussions open the door to decide upon and take action in key strategic areas that can provide the best return from project-based work.

Awareness and knowledge are first steps in leading change towards a project-based organization.  Consulting and facilitated work sessions  are the means to:

  • conduct an assessment across the organization
  • discover strengths that need to be reinforced
  • design actions plans
  • create value
  • reap the benefits available in an environment that supports the right projects done

Creat Env 3rd Ed amaz
Review the brand new Third Edition of Creating an Environment for Successful Projects, co-authored by Randall L. Englund of the Englund Project Management Consultancy and Dr. Robert J. Graham.

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