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Jan 11, 2013 by Patrick Icasas in PM Best Practices & News

What Hinders Project Performance at Large Companies?

tortoise beating hare across finish lineIt’s kind of a paradox that large companies, with more money, resources, and personnel, can’t seem to get projects done as fast or as well as smaller businesses that have less to work with. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? What is holding large companies back from tapping into their vast resources and technical knowledge to churn out one project after another?

Let’s dive into the topic and see just why larger companies tend to be slower-moving than their smaller competitors:

Not Knowing your Talent

Bigger companies have an advantage in terms of personnel size, but that advantage can be quickly turned on its head when it comes time to assign tasks. When managers have to deal with more employees, it can be difficult to know each one’s skills and abilities and whether or not they match up to the task. What ends up happening is that projects get assigned to job titles, and not to the actual people—so good performance is not assured. Contrast this with smaller companies, who have fewer layers in between managers and employees, and who are more familiar with their team’s capabilities. The smaller company’s manager will know whether an employee is suited for the project or not, and can shift assignments around accordingly.

Bureaucracy

Having multiple layers of management and policies governing each department is necessary to organize a large business. But by its very nature, process tends to slow things down to a crawl when things need to get done. Chains of command and approval cycles can slow or kill project momentum, especially if upper management is not fully briefed on a project and makes decisions based on bad information.

Project managers can try to circumvent this process, but that usually ends in a reprimand and punitive action, even if it was done for the project’s benefit. Instead, project managers should try to work with management on policy changes through consistent feedback, statistical evidence, and good old fashioned persistence. This way, you can introduce meaningful changes for your team such as flex time, better evaluations, and tighter approval cycles.

Accountability

Projects in large companies can sometimes span multiple departments and stakeholders, confusing people on the chain of command. When something goes wrong, it will often start a game of “pass the buck”, as people try to shift blame on other departments. The reason this works so well is that in the confusion of a complex organizational structure, no one can really say who is ultimately responsible.

Duplicate Projects and Rework

Bigger companies are notorious for starting ambitious projects and leaving them to languish halfway through. After a period of time (six months to a year), someone from higher up will remember this project, and try to breathe some life back into it. But the new team will have to learn what has already been done, what the old thing was trying to do, and how to update it to reflect changes in technology or the market. It might even be better to throw everything out and start from scratch.

It can also be difficult to know what other teams are doing in large companies, where you are pigeonholed into one department with no interaction with anyone else. Duplicate projects may arise from teams led by managers who had the same idea.

What’s your experience with large companies been? Please share your thoughts and stories below!

Image credit, Matea2506, Flickr

patrick-icasas
Patrick Icasas

Patrick Icasas is a former marketing project manager with 7 years of marketing and PR agency experience, managing creative projects for brands such as Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and Adobe. He now spends his time helping people make the most out of their project management software and entertaining his 5 year old daughter.

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