This year’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize goes to the spring 2015 MIT SMR article by Fabian J. Sting, Christoph H. Loch, and Dirk Stempfhuber titled “Accelerating Projects by Encouraging Help.”
In this article, the authors examine the difficulties organizations face in project planning and execution and describe a management innovation used by Roto Frank, a German company that produces hardware for windows and doors, to augment its project control system. The company designed a help process that encourages workers to seek and provide mutual assistance. The authors found that the help process led to measurable improvements in the company’s project cycle time without changing formal incentives or other management systems. In their view, the success was largely based on two factors: the psychological safety the process afforded the workers and the way the system encouraged cooperative behavior among workers by stressing interdependence. The authors saw the process as having relevance to other organizations seeking to improve performance.
The judges were particularly impressed by two aspects of the article. The first was the authors’ recognition of how formal and rational project management practices need to interact with individuals’ perspectives and behavior. The second was the detailed and careful way in which the authors studied, analyzed, and described Roto’s approach over a period of three years. As the judges note, “The authors examine alternative possibilities for the improvement carefully, recognizing both the research subject and setting to be multivariate, dynamic, and systemic.”
While acknowledging that one case study cannot have solutions for everyone, the judges noted that the article told “a story of what particular managers and involved researchers did in a particular setting” — something they felt was characteristic of Richard Beckhard’s work. “The article should be a valuable complement to the experience of practicing managers who read it,” the judges offered. “It is not unlike having a conversation with Beckhard.”
This year’s panel of judges consisted of distinguished members of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty: David Austin Professor of Management Sinan Aral, retired senior lecturer Cyrus Gibson, and Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management John Van Maanen.