Culture in Project Management

July 7, 2010

We have talked at Braintrust about how culture is so essential to project management. In fact, we wrote a whole blog article about how being conscious of this reality is key to many successful projects.

So we were super-excited when we visited Bas de Baar’s website (A prominent PM figure) and they were saying the same thing. Check out some of their thoughts here:


The observable traits or characteristics of an organism are called “phenotypes”. Your entire digital footprint is a phenotype. And so is the parrot on your shoulder if you associated yourself with being a pirate. So tags are phenotypes. Rituals are phenotypes.

Boyd and Richerson in Culture and the Evolutionary Process (1985) define culture as “information capable of affecting individuals’ phenotypes which they acquire from other conspecifics … by teaching or imitation.”

Providing information and teaching are therefor essential tasks in building cultures.

But this view also provides a different angle. The culture (in this case the project) adds to the individuals phenotype. So, to the legacy of the individual team member. It is not just his resume he is working on, it is larger than that, it is about creating his own identity and life story. His storyline is made up of a sequence of quests he is taking on. And one of those quests might be your project.

The essence of this observation is that culture cannot be separated from the project and the individual professional paths.

In an attempt to create a visual representation of the story I am telling at Project Shrink, I came up with the following.

The quest is the goal of the project. I call it “quest” as it also applies to e.g. online communities.

The small circles are the individual team members. The arrows between them represent their interaction.

The rules of engagement are the set of rules the group agreed upon for the way they interact.

The leader (PM) can use a mix of rituals, badges (visual clues), motivation, facilitation, communication and setting the example to ensure interactions and quest are followed as agreed (explicit and implicit) by the group.

The individual storyline is the combination of the “history” of the person (which determines his reputation) and the profile (a snapshot of who he is at this moment, the current role or expertise). The storyline moves into the direction of a persons ambition.

I hope this provides some structure in a sometimes complex story :)




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