Research Feature

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How Executive Sponsors Influence Project Success

In each stage of a project's life cycle, two or three behaviors have significant impact on the project's likelihood for success. These behaviors, by the executive who is sponsoring the project, ensure effective partnerships with project managers and require a great deal of informal dialogue. They include setting performance goals, establishing priorities, ensuring quality and capturing lessons learned.

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What Successful Project Managers Do

Successful project managers often combine elements of traditional and agile approaches to project management. They cope with uncertainty, for instance, by developing detailed short-term plans along with firm commitments and tentative longer term plans. The authors draw from experiential data from more than 150 successful project managers affiliated with over 20 organizations, and provide a detailed look at the success factors behind NASA’s Mars Pathfinder project.

Image courtesy of British Airways

Reducing Unwelcome Surprises in Project Management

How can managers reduce the number of “unknown unknowns” a project faces? Even projects that employ sophisticated techniques for risk management can encounter surprising derailments. But new research shows that modeling a project’s subsystems helps expose risk areas. So, too, can scenario analysis, the use of checklists and data mining. “Directed recognition, which can entail both project design and behavioral approaches, can convert knowable unk-unks [unknown unknowns] to known unknowns,” write the authors.

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Minding the Analytics Gap

While analytical skills are improving among managers, the increasing sophistication of analyses is outpacing the development of those skills. The resulting gap creates a need for managers to become comfortable applying analytical results they do not fully understand. A 2014 survey by MIT Sloan Management Review, in partnership with SAS Institute Inc., highlights the ways that companies can address this problem by focusing on both the production and consumption sides of analytics.

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Competing With Ordinary Resources

Not every company can be built around exceptional talent or exclusive technology. Instead, companies also can thrive by the innovative use of ordinary resources, such as well-managed staffs and competent websites. As management scholars Sumantra Ghoshal and Christopher Bartlett once wrote: “The key function of management is to help ordinary people produce extraordinary results.” The authors examine how business models leveraging regular resources will take different approaches than those focused on scarce strategic resources.

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Assembling Your Personal Board of Advisors

The notion that one mentor can meet all of an individual’s developmental needs is increasingly outdated. Instead, many people now draw from a "personal board of advisors," which can encompass a range of individuals, from friends or family who provide emotional support to role models the person may not personally know. The authors identify six types of personal advisors who, together, provide a broad combination of psychosocial support and career support.

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Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help

How can companies get employees to pull together to meet project deadlines? It turns out that establishing psychological safety and promoting cooperative behavior can be just as important as good planning. This case study of management innovation at Roto Frank, a German company that produces hardware for industrial and residential windows and doors, highlights the difficulties of project planning and execution — and the benefits of building a positive feedback cycle.

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Why You Decide the Way You Do

Curiosity about the decision-making process has heated up, attracting academics from neuroscience, management, behavioral economics and psychology. Researchers have found, for instance, that a willingness to ask for advice on difficult problems can increase a person’s perceived competence, and that too many choices can cause people to make less-than-optimal choices. Here, we highlight six scholarly articles that have intriguing insights into the factors that can affect decision-making.

Image courtesy of Spanx, Inc.

The Power of Asking Pivotal Questions

Good strategic thinking and decision making often require a shift in perspective — particularly in environments characterized by significant uncertainty and change. Managers can make better decisions by examining both broad market trends and less visible undercurrents. But the questions leaders pose sometimes get in the way of solving the right problem or seeing more innovative solutions. Here, the authors present six questions that challenge executives to incorporate broader perspectives.

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Mastering the ‘Name Your Product Category’ Game

When is the best time to enter a new industry? As it turns out, understanding the product category dynamics in an emerging industry and when a dominant category label has been introduced are important to identifying the “window of opportunity” to enter. Dominant category labels typically are introduced right before the industry starts a phase of rapid growth and consolidation. Companies would do well to track category labels before introducing a product in a nascent industry.

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From Risk to Resilience: Learning to Deal With Disruption

In a volatile, global economy, supply chains have become increasingly vulnerable. Supply chain practices designed to keep costs low in a stable business environment can increase risk levels during disruptions. But companies can cultivate resilience to unexpected disruptions by understanding their vulnerabilities and developing specific capabilities to compensate for them. The authors identify and detail 16 capabilities companies can use to respond to particular vulnerability patterns.

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Using Simulated Experience to Make Sense of Big Data

As data analyses get more complex, how can companies best communicate results to ensure that decision makers have a proper grasp of the data’s implications? Research has found that letting decision makers gain experience on the outcomes of different possible actions by interacting with simulations helps those executives make better decisions. Simulations narrow the often a large gap between what analysts want to share and what decision makers understand, and more clearly illustrate complex statistical information.

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The Dark Side of Information Technology

All of our wonderful mobile devices don’t always make us good at managing what we do with them. Handling information flows can take a toll on employee well-being, with some employees experiencing “technostress” from the pressure to multitask and to respond to Emails quickly. But there are steps executives can take to counter the negative effects of IT use. These steps encourage employees to step back and examine their personal relationships with IT.

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The Case for ‘Benevolent’ Mobile Apps

Smartphone apps that provide consumers with helpful information — instead of simply pushing product sales — can improve users’ preference for a company. As well, mobile apps that are about useful information, what the authors call “benevelance,” can significantly impact sales at a low cost and thus improve profitability. “A benevolent app can build trust, which in turn can lead people to consider purchasing your product,” write authors Glen L. Urban and Fareena Sultan.

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Beyond Forecasting: Creating New Strategic Narratives

In rapidly changing industries, it can be hard for established companies to build momentum for new strategic directions. But by rethinking the past and present and reimagining the future, managers can construct strategic narratives that enable innovation. A new study helps to understand how managers actually make strategy in conditions of considerable uncertainty, and do it in a way that is coherent, plausible and acceptable to most key stakeholders in the organization.

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The Opportunity Paradox

How can companies capture new opportunities most effectively? When evaluating new business opportunities, there’s a paradoxical tension between strategic focus and flexibility. Managers tend to be opportunists or strategists, and while most managers focus their attention on opportunity execution, opportunity selection appears to matter as much. Sustained business success seems to depend not just on capturing one opportunity but also on stringing multiple opportunities together.

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How Strategic Is Your Board?

Strategic thinking at the top of a company is more important than ever for business survival. But boards of directors have no clear model to follow when it comes to developing the strategic role for the companies they oversee. Should they supervise, cocreate or support strategy? A structured assessment of a board’s strategic responsibilities can bring clarity to its role in creating strategy, and boards should be prepared to change their role in strategy if the industry context changes.

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How to Win in an Omnichannel World

Retail customers now readily use both online and offline retail channels. To thrive in this new environment, retailers need to reexamine their strategies for delivering information and products. Companies that are successful at navigating the omnichannel environment take a customer perspective and view the activities of the company through two core functions: information and fulfillment. They also consider hybrid online-offline approaches, including inventory-only showrooms and “buy online, pick up in store” options.

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Creating More Accurate Acquisition Valuations

Deal markets can be “hot” or “cold,” and the state of the economy can bias executives’ evaluation of potential acquisitions. For instance, relying on discounted cash flow scenarios can bolster managers’ sense of confidence and create unrealistically low perceptions of uncertainty. Executives can mitigate valuation biases by having a checklist — the list tempers natural inclinations to focus on the value of growth options in “hot” markets and risk of investment in “cold” markets.

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Why Managers Still Matter

The role of managers needs to be redefined in today’s knowledge-based economy. Managerial authority remains essential in situations where decisions are time-sensitive, knowledge is concentrated and several decisions need to be coordinated. As well, an important task for today’s managers is to define the organizational goals and principles that they want employees to pursue. “From our perspective, the view that executive authority is increasingly passé is wrong,” write the authors.

Showing 1-20 of 567