The Mud Cube Model For Corporate Projects
In the literature of professional project management, the environment is addressed by stakeholder management, senior management engagement and change management over the organization. It’s often that projects and project management discussed in isolation of the environment the project operates within. Give a project manager a cause, and he will rally the troops for deliverables. “Within timeline” and “within budget” they pray as they march into the kickoff meeting.
In the big corporation, the importance of a project is measured by different indicators and differs by corporate culture. Some corporate regard the assigned budget of the project to rank its importance. Others, value more the expected impact of the deliverables. In low resource organizations, the number of people or the seniority of the people in the project may highlight its importance. A combination of the three and other factors may also for the perception of importance. And as any other perception, importance can start low and move up or the other way around. As time lapses, the perception reshapes. (Cubility.com, 2017)
Little attention has been paid to address project importance from the individual perspective of those who are leading it. In social crises, patriotism indulges the sense of purpose and goodness. Burse Willis was not waiting for a promotion not a compensation drill that asteroid in Armageddon. In real life, a variation of the same sentiment does exist. A project manager does have that sense of patriotism to his or her project as any leader would have to his/her cause. Unfortunate to the nature of causes, some causes are lost causes as per Edward Said definition. How bad is it for a project leader to be on a lost cause project within a corporate culture? What is the impact on his/her career path within the organization? Does it affect his/her career progress in general?
In different words, if at the beginning of the year, the PMO gave the option to select two projects out ten projects and your goal is to advance in your organization, which projects should you chose. Surprisingly, the literature on what is a good project for you within the individual context is exceptionally thin. I do agree that many individual preferences, expertise, people, relevance and other personal characteristics and history add to the mix. Therefore, how to choose a project are little models or tools to help.
From a career advancement perspective in a corporate environment, I may have few cents to share. It is worth highlight that each one of us is driven by three drivers in executing our daily jobs. The company interest driver is the most pronounced driver that mostly shared by all staff. It’s presented by the communicated and embedded directions from senior management and corporate strategy. It also dictates the boundaries of police correctness within the corporate environment. Any task or project you undertake, it has driven in the direction of this driver.
Then the second driver is the individual profession driver. This driver is why we would choose a project that is specialized in digitalization so to build our expertise in such a project hoping to become an expert in the field of digitalization for example. It also relates to potential career path within the company or the industry. Career driver is usually the most prominent driver for young professionals. It dictates the training courses you take, the “volunteered” extra tasks, and the commitment of timelines and budgets that reflect on your image as a professional individual. If you a look at a project and the first thing you ask yourself, do I want to be known as an expert in this field. Then this is your main driver. (Rystad Energy, 2016)
The third driver is the personal interest driver. This might be viewed as inclusive of individual professionalism driver and/or contradictory at the same time. Both are true, and it’s also an independent driver. It varies per the case you look at it. However, the driver stems from the second half being a professional person. Your personal interest is a powerful driver for many decisions you take at work. One of the misleading thoughts of corporate culture is that if you account for any personal aspect, you disqualify of being a professional. The sciences of human resources, change management, conflict resolution, negotiation strategy, almost all aspects of project management would emphasize the personal aspects.
The personal driver powerful, it fuels self-motivation and the energy into work. History speaks the load of greatness achieved because of the love of a woman. If you dig into the projects you have excelled in, there is a good chance that your good energy was out of a personal driver. Either someone you had chemistry in the team, money reward that aspired to achieve, self-projection of success by doing what you are doing.
I have a friend that he loved his job simply because he is being flown business class every month. It was not the materialistic side of a business class nor the travel to new countries that drove him. Although it could have. It was the cultural growing up in a community that viewed success by business travelling on corporate expense. Within that community, its spoken high of such people as they are people of professionalism. “They made it in life,” the uncle would say.
There is no need to classify oneself to which driver you belong to the most. We all subscribe to all of them all the time. For any task we do, the three drivers either push forward or backwards or conflict and then cancelling some of their drives. If you are changing jobs, the first driver is irrelevant and professional and personal take over. If you are in need money and a tempting package was offered, the professional might be compromised as well in making the decision. When your boss through the phrase for “the greater good” of the company, you automatically know there is no personal, gain from the task, compromising a driver in succeeded what you are asked to do. (Pgjonline.com, 2013)
With that in mind, let us set the stage for corporate projects. In big corporate, every employee is no such a person that is indispensable, or irreplaceable. To champion, a project for the “greater good” might only be beneficial from a personal branding perspective and maybe some favors in the organization. However, this is only as good as the organization buy-in into the cause you are leading. The reward is highly dependent on the integrity and appreciation of the senior management. Which making the project for the “greater good” in itself permits the questioning of both.
The simplest answer to which project to pick is usually the most naive one. For years, I was convinced that the value of the project deliverables to an organization is what makes a project most rewarding. If the project is transformational for the corporate in a way or another, it is then held up high for a cause. The patriotic sentiment has a sweet sense of purpose. However, causes require time. In addition, corporate memory as short as a goldfish memory.
By the time, the project is halfway, all vocabulary is overused. Project priority fades silently to the bottom as new urgencies take precedence. The project becomes a job to defend rather a job to rally. The value of the project deliverable is important in picking a project. However, pay close attention to the expected duration of the project. High-value deliverable in the shortest time possible. Is this enough to progress in a corporate setting as we have always been trained as professionals to believe? If you have few experiences in a corporate. The answer is simple; no.
Relationships, self-brand, and exposure are major factors in a corporate progression; triple factors. The triple factors are self-enforcing to each other. For an instant, a person who has branded himself a successful businessperson, people around him are likely to want to be associated with him. The network of the friends would offer him exposure to social events. Similarly, someone whose job has high exposure to people is more likely to form more friendships, which might reflect a certain brand among his friend. Being competent at your job is of an appreciated value; however, it’s valued requires the three factors as catalysts to materialize.
If you are a project manager, the projects you work decide the quality of your time and effort investment. Some projects provide a great opportunity for exposure, self-branding, and networking. These projects make your opportunity Breath. Other project provides one of the triple factors and suffocates you in labor work that might look very good in your yearly appraisal, but has no true value for your career progression. These projects make your opportunity Suffocate.
I the corporate world, the hierarchy is the of significance. Your opportunity breathes best when you have consistent exposure and interest from the top board. The higher the senior management engaged in your project the better your opportunity breaths and more likely to progress.
For understanding the different types of projects in light of opportunity breathiness, imagine your project as a rock in a mud. Imagine cutting a cube from the ground under your feet. The surface of the cub is dry and fresh of sun and air. If you are lucky grass too. Meanwhile, the bottom of the cub is humid and moist with no single bubble of air. The rocks are the projects and the location within the cube is project representation in terms of breathiness. (Pgonline.com, 2013)
The Mud Cube has three dimensions, X: is the number of people engaged in the project. Y is the engagement time in the project for these people. Z: is the seniority of the people in the organization
Mud Cube Surface Seniority
To display the model, I chose three projects of different characteristics and rendered in the Mud Cube model;
- This project is an example of an early stage of the market expansion project. The project directly engages a considerable number of senior management e.g. regional CEOs. Engagement level is high as the board is following progress on the daily or weekly basis. The project does not involve many resources. No junior or mid-management engagement.
- This project is operationally strategic project e.g. core system upgrade. The project is of high importance. However, only a few senior management are engaged in the project. They only follow progress once every two weeks or a month. No ongoing engagement on the topic within the senior management circle. The project engages a considerable amount of resources as it is of high value and complexity. Project members include junior staff, experts and middle management staff. It requires operational and IT skills.
- Small project on a departmental level. The project involves a small number of junior staff. No senior management engaged in the project. (Pgjonline.com, 2013)
Mud Cube Observations and Indications
Opportunity At Project 1 breaths easily as project area on Cube surface is considerably wider than the other projects. The upper part, in general, provides the opportunity to prosper the triple factors needed for career progress. This project is great for progression within the corporate.
Opportunity At Project 2 breaths moderately but with a great deal of effort. Although some exposure to surface exists, project mass is mostly deep in the Mud. As a project manager will spend most of the time with technical, junior staff and middle management. Senior executives will rarely discuss the project in between them so you will not be required regular conversations. In most cases, your presentations will substitute for your involvement in decision-making.
Most decisions are taken on less than senior management decisions. This project is with a chance to self-branding. However, it is not sufficient to belt relations or have any exposure. Although the project doesn’t support your progression within the corporate, it is most likely to be valued a great deal once you apply to a new organization and meet the new senior staff that heard of your work.
Opportunity At Project 3 is in total suffocation. These are pro bono projects. We all do them once a while for different reasons. Do not invest more time than you should in them.
Note To The Model
Seniority level should be defined to custom to the environment and individual. Surface level for a junior staff can be the CEO. However, the Surface level for a subsidiary CEO can be the headquarter board of directors.
Observing the model over time will show sinking project and floating projects as organizational priorities change. In some rare occasions, an earthquake can reshuffle the ‘stones’ sizes and locations e.g. mergers or drastic group restructuring.
The model only describes the opportunity to progress. Capitalization on the opportunity is affected by many environmental, historical, personal, and other elements. For an instant, if senior management is culturally biased against certain ethnicities e.g. Lebanese management biased against Syrian or Palestinian nationality (as results of recent refugee situation), the opportunity may not materialize and even worse be politically weapon zed for senior management gain at your expense as a project manager.
The project manager should pay more attention to the selection of their projects. The type of project they select directly affects their progression within their corporate. Successful completion of the project does not necessarily mean career success. The Mud Cube Model presents a visual tool to assist PMs evaluating projects at an early stage and seek the ones that progress their careers.
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