Project Management

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The 2016 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

This year’s winning article is “Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help,” by Fabian J. Sting, Christoph H. Loch, and Dirk Stempfhuber. The authors examine project planning and execution challenges and describe a case study of a company that designed a help process to encourage workers to seek and provide mutual assistance. The Beckhard Prize is awarded annually to the authors of the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development.


Navigating the Leadership Challenges of Innovation Ecosystems

Certain kinds of product or process creations involve not just one player but many to ensure success. Organizations working toward this kind of innovation need to think about the project’s innovation ecosystem, which includes identifying co-innovators, structuring project leadership, and potentially modifying how success is defined. “All these things need to be negotiated within the coalition” notes Ron Adner of the Tuck School of Business — a process that’s often under-appreciated or ignored.


Monitor, Measure, Incentivize: Is Management as Simple as That?

Nicholas Bloom, William Eberle Professor of Economics at Stanford University, conducted an extensive study of 30,000 US factories, and found that two practices, underpinned by innovative software and IT systems, stand out in highly effectively managed operations: monitoring and incentives.


Building a Better Car Company With Analytics

Using data and analytics to understand the complexities of modern business has become not only common, but essential. Gahl Berkooz joined Ford Motor Co. in 2004, eventually becoming head of data and governance and a member of the company’s global data insights and analytics skill team. Berkooz became acutely aware of how important analytics is to the company’s ability to thrive in the global marketplace. “What it boils down to,” he told MIT SMR’s Michael Fitzgerald, “is that we know how to make decisions. It’s about finding the opportunities to bring data and analytics to make better decisions.”



Where Digitization Is Failing to Deliver

It has become a truism that the pace of work is faster than ever, as digital technologies speed up communication and operational processes in a story of unending progress. But increased speed has not translated into increased rates of productivity growth. Since 2004, growth rates have slowed not just in the US but across the world. Chad Syverson, J. Baum Harris Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, explains what the implications are, and why the benefits of new technologies are not straightforward.


Why Learning Is Central to Sustained Innovation

Many managers think they can create better products just by improving the development process or adding new tools. But it’s skilled people, not processes, that create great products. So-called “lean” organizations invest heavily and continuously in the skills of product developers, and rather than developing single products, they think in terms of streams of products. By making people the backbone of the product development system, companies can achieve a triple win: increased innovation, faster time to market, and lower costs.


Learning the Art of Business Improvisation

The ability to innovate and rapidly respond to changes in the business environment is critical to competitiveness and success. Improvisation and experimentation combined with focus and flexibility are needed to identify new business opportunities and effectively execute projects. But while improvisation may seem to be spontaneous, managers can foster it through the deliberate development of certain processes and capabilities in an organization’s culture, team structure, and management practices.


Enough Health Care Data for an Army: The Million Veteran Program

The holy grail of medicine is therapy that is customized for the patient. But to get there, health care researchers need huge amounts of data to help identify which genes affect health. The Million Veteran Program has tapped one of the largest cohorts available — U.S. military personnel — to obtain the dataset, but managing the security of this sensitive data is a challenge. In a Q&A, two of the project’s lead scientists, J. Michael Gaziano and Saiju Pyarajan, explain the process.


Are You Part of the Email Problem?

Over-reliance on email as a communication tool is sapping people of their time and energy. Author, speaker and consultant Phil Simon says there are better ways — and many new and better tools — to do things. “As consumers, it’s never been easier. Hundreds of millions of us use Dropbox, Facebook, Snapchat, texting, Skype, and other tools to communicate with each other,” says Simon. “Why do we resist change at work?” Embracing new tools, he argues, will result in better communication and far less wasted time.



From the Editor: Expecting the Unexpected in Project Management

If there’s one thing that’s certain about undertaking complex projects, it’s that not everything will work out exactly the way you planned. The Spring 2015 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review highlights project management, in “Reducing Unwelcome Surprises in Project Management,” “How Executive Sponsors Influence Project Success,” “What Successful Project Managers Do” and “Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help.” In a nutshell, managers must expect the unexpected in projects.


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.


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.


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.


Image courtesy of Flickr user Frank Hebbert

When an IT Project "Goes Red"

Declaring that a project everyone is excited about is in trouble can be demoralizing. But it’s exactly what can turn things around. That’s what health care insurer WellPoint found when it ran into trouble changing its provider payment system and put the project into “Status Red.” Sending the warning message up the organization ended up having a positive effect, even if team morale initially took a hit. Four steps in particular helped set a better course.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Simon James.

How to Compensate For Overoptimistic Project Leaders

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Would you know if a project was heading off the rails? Too often, members of project teams are crossing their fingers and providing only the most hopeful updates. After reviewing 14 studies into the ways in which individuals report (and misreport) the status of information technology or software projects, the authors identified five specific areas for leaders to look out for to avoid being blindsided.


Preparing Analytics for a Strategic Role

The way health care is billed in the U.S. system is part of the reason costs are so high. WellPoint*, one of the largest providers of health care benefits and insurance in the U.S., is using analytics to change its provider payment system. The goal: promote a health care system based on value, not the volume of services. This Data & Analytics Case Study takes an in-depth look at how WellPoint went from idea to implementation, working with physicians and IT staff to build its Enhanced Personal Health Care program.


The Pitfalls of Project Status Reporting

Accepting five inconvenient truths about project status reporting can greatly reduce the chance of being blindsided by unpleasant surprises. For instance, many employees tend to put a positive spin on anything they report to senior management. And when employees do report bad news, senior executives often ignore it. Overconfidence is an occupational hazard in the executive suite, and executives need to examine their own assumptions and beliefs about project status reporting.


Driving Change Through Corporate Programs

CEOs of large companies introduce corporate programs as a way to foster strategic renewal. But whether the goal is boosting profitability, improving business models or establishing new directions for growth, it’s important to match the design of the program with the desired outcomes.

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