In the quantitative part of the study, we found general empirical support for a model in which project leader building activities, which support instilling a project vision and artifacts, are guided by this individual's values and affect partakers' emotions, attitudes, and behavioral norms that are focused on expected project outcomes, termed project spirit. Furthermore, project spirit was found to affect partakers' contextual performance behavior and, through contextual performance behavior, to affect project success. The qualitative part of the study follows. The first objective of the case studies is to ground the model (Figure 1) in the context of technology-driven projects through more detailed description. The second objective of the case studies is to highlight aspects of spirit, and building activities that have an important impact on behavior and success outcomes but are difficult to describe using only empirical data.
This section begins with a description of the case study methodology, followed by background descriptions of three technology-driven projects and a summary table. Next, we ground the concepts of the model in the reality of the project cases. The final part of the case study section focuses on several key themes that help provide a better understanding of spirit, leader building activities, behavior outcomes, and success in technology-driven projects.
Case Study Methods
We began with a sample of 193 technology-driven projects we had identified that had at least three core project participants. We concentrated on NASA Mars Pathfinder, Mars Climate Orbiter, and Lunar Prospector, since they operated in a similar environment and represented similar project types on some of the most common dimensions for project categorization (Shenhar & Dvir, 1996, 2004), and we wanted to assess the influence on leader building activities and spirit expression-components, while controlling for project type and key environment factors. These three projects were categorized as high-tech projects. In high-tech projects, all or mostly all new but existing technologies are used (see Shenhar & Dvir, 2004). While an effective project manager may be the source for a project team's spirit, there are other possibilities, like the satisfying nature of the technical challenge of high-tech projects or the opportunity for new learning on the job. We felt that, by concentrating on the views of partakers in successful and failed technology challenging projects, we could illustrate the importance of maintaining and managing a project's spirit, regardless of the level of spirit partakers bring to the project and irrespective of the satisfying level of the technical challenge. Although not addressed in the current study, as with most deep space projects, schedule, cost, and technology have limited margins, making Mars Pathfinder, Mars Climate Orbiter, and Lunar Prospector blitz-critical projects. Time and budgets became fixed, and any error in either of these areas meant cancellation for the project. The cases were all categorized as system on the dimension of complexity. As is the case with all deep space missions, they are a collection of interactive elements and subsystems that must perform a wide range of functions under extreme conditions. All the projects were successful projects, except for Mars Climate Orbiter. Some methodological strengths of the current research design are that we were able to hold constant key environmental factors, since all projects were carried out within the NASA culture. Additionally, Mars Climate Orbiter, a failed project, and the successful Mars Pathfinder and Lunar Prospector projects provide us with the opportunity to establish a well-designed investigation and to center on several major questions that were guided by our empirical findings: What is the value of leader building activities in maintaining and managing spirit in these technology challenging projects? Additionally, what was the level of spirit in the failed Climate Orbiter? Was it any different from, for example, what project participants we interviewed encountered on the Mars Pathfinder project, which successfully landed a probe on the surface of Mars?
The researchers interviewed individuals identified by participants as important contributors. In each project we interviewed a program director, project-team leader, engineer, and two team members. The interviews were semi-structured, following Merton, Fiske, and Kendall's (1963) approach. The core questions focused on the following underlying topics guided by our empirical study: the project's vision, values, artifacts (social rituals, symbols), spirit, and contextual performance behavior outcomes.
The purpose of these interviews was to understand the project and the impact that spirit had on behavior outcomes and success, as well as how project spirit was generated and maintained. Two researchers were present at each interview. Both took notes independently and typed them up each night. Any inconsistencies were discussed and resolved. Researchers' impressions were kept separate from the interviewees' impressions, and all data were included in the write-ups, even when not specifically requested in the interview guide (Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 1984). Interview notes from the two researchers were compared to highlight differences and produce a master set of interview notes. Next we followed the “memoing” process (Glaser, 1978) to record patterns that the researchers noted within each project site and across project sites to identify the matches between the empirical pattern and the case study predicted pattern (Yin, 1984). Our presentation of the case studies begins with brief background descriptions of each project. Summary tables (Tables 6–8) of the cases that illustrate project goals, examples of the leader building activities, behavior outcomes, and elements of spirit are also included. In the final section, we focus on several key themes that emerged from the case studies that were not well represented by the empirical results, but are important for understanding spirit and the value of leader building activities for managing spirit in technology-driven projects.
Table 6. Project, industry, and goals.
Table 7. Illustrating the building activities of spirit instilled by the leader in each project.
Table 8. Spirit expression components and behavior outcomes.
Case Findings—Spirit, Leader Building Activities, Behavior Outcomes, and Success
In this section, to ground the model in the context of technology-driven projects, we tabulate sample views of participants we interviewed in the technology-driven projects (Tables 7–8). We begin by highlighting the value of leader building activities and spirit, which have an important impact on behavior and success outcomes that support our model but were difficult to describe using only our empirical findings.
Our case results illustrate the merit of fostering a focused vision for the project. The successful projects we studied had implicit or explicit vision elements that articulated the state of affairs once the project was completed (Shenhar, 2004), which fostered the emotional expression component of spirit. For example, in the successful Mars Pathfinder, one manager noted: “In order to create a relentless pursuit of the competitive advantage, management fostered a focused vision for the project and made sure that this vision was part of everyone's approach” (Table 7). “Team members believed in the project vision and thus became self-directed to achieving the strategy.” According to participants in the successful Mars Pathfinder, “Mars Pathfinder…carried an excitement that was unmatched.” Similarly, Mars Prospector interviewees noted that the mission objectives fostered excitement (Table 8). At the failed Mars Climate Orbiter, there was a drive to do good science, but the drive to develop MCO at a minimum cost fostered the strategy. To accomplish the most science for the least dollar, the project was designed around cost and not the science (Table 7), which had implications for participants' emotions. Team enthusiasm at the failed MCO was rooted in these people's interests, rather than the project's vision. The MCO program manager described the participants as, “just a bunch of space nuts” (Table 8), supporting this contention.
Our case analysis shows that inculcating the leader's values, as apparent in this individual's behavior, is a potent device for cultivating the attitudinal expression component of spirit, which had behavior and success implications. For example, the manager of the successful Mars Pathfinder described his efforts to foster participant commitment, an attitudinal expression of spirit: “Management believed in being an example to the team…. During the project, we changed about 10 percent of the staff…. It wasn't a matter of skill, they just didn't fit in with the environment…. They weren't willing to make that commitment to pulling this project off” (Table 7). The deputy mission manager in the successful Lunar Prospector attributes participants' commitment to the project manager's actions: “The [project manager] was successful because he tried to motivate people to do the job he felt they were capable of doing. The [project managers] were very involved and were never afraid to ‘pick up a wrench’ to guarantee project success.” It stands out that partaker contextual performance behavior in the successful Mars Pathfinder and Lunar Prospector projects was due to their increased commitment; for example, “people [in Lunar Prospector] went the extra mile and had faith that their team members would do the same” (Table 8). According to partakers in the failed MCO, “Management did not infuse a sense of responsibility for the success of the project” (Table 7). The project leadership processor added that “leadership [at MCO] lacked a balance between confidence and arrogance.” Team members mentioned that “as requirements crept, no one [from management] stood up and said No, or that it was not in line with the original scope and strategy of the project.” Members also felt “it was difficult to achieve team spirit since they were pressured to perform as management wanted them to, or they were not valued on the project,” which had behavioral outcome implications (Table 8). Taken together, molding the attitudinal expression component of spirit, as illustrated in high levels of effort among partakers, appeared to pay off, in that Mars Pathfinder and Lunar Prospector were completed at unprecedented speed and were successful projects.
Our case findings illustrate the value of project managers implementing social rituals, including formal meetings and training that emphasize desirable behaviors, to mold the cultural expression component of spirit, as evident in both successful projects (Tables 7–8). Sponsoring such social rituals sends a clear message on the extent that teamwork is important and intensive investment of time and energy, and acquisition of new ideas and skills that support teamwork are expected. Rituals that include customers, suppliers, and internal stakeholders can engender a culture of inclusion, as illustrated in the successful Mars Pathfinder and Lunar Prospector projects we investigated. According to participants in the successful Mars Pathfinder, “The people that were going to be there at landing were there during the design [creating a culture of inclusion]…. It grew into the tightest, most high-spirited group of people” (Table 8).
The successful Lunar Prospector project had a staff meeting to address objectives for the week every Monday, and a subsystem review so engineers could address the issues in real time, every Wednesday (Table 7). Additionally, training was received prior to the project start or on-the-job in both successful projects. By encouraging regularly scheduled training programs, the project manager can build commitment to product quality, a characteristic captured by a culture of inclusion. Additionally, team social events in the successful projects helped strengthen the culture component of spirit. Mars Pathfinder partakers described how the project manager “would declare a happy hour, and … members of the team would go out for drinks. This activity became a festive event that helped develop camaraderie,” bolstering a culture of inclusion, an expression component of spirit. According to project partakers, it seems that these social rituals (Table 7) were not instilled in the failed MCO project we investigated, in order to manage the cultural component of spirit. For example, in terms of team events and meetings, the MCO interviewees indicated that links with contractors and upper management were limited or faint, that the project built a protective shield to outside opinion, and training was limited. Additionally, the lack of key members' involvement (e.g., scientists) from the start of the project and others who “were not brought to the project until just before launch,” diminished a culture of inclusion, an expression component of spirit (Table 8).
Our case project results show that the project manager can introduce symbols, including layout and design of the work environment, and other concrete objects to signify the desired behaviors of project members and to shape the culture expression component of spirit. Introducing such symbols represents the extent that equality, synergy, and open communication are expected by the project leader. According to project partakers, the extent that the successful Mars Pathfinder and Lunar prospector projects were fully colocated was greater than what interviewees reported existed in the failed Mars Climate Orbiter (Table 7). Colocation in the successful projects resulted in the reduction of distance, both spatial and perceptual among participants, exemplifying the value placed on equality and open communication, prerequisites for effective inter-functional cooperation, engendering the culture of inclusion expression of spirit, leading to high levels of contextual performance behavior (Table 8). Additionally, the use of other symbols to manage spirit was reported only by participants in the successful projects (Table 7). For instance, an engineer described one of the events that centered on naming, this way: “Mars Pathfinder found ways to take things out of the rigor of the everyday process of NASA's very straight-laced organization and put some … fun into the process.” David, who created the landing operations simulations, was called the Gremlin, and the seven women who worked on the wiring that tied the spacecraft together were called the Seven Dwarfs. In a similar way, the successful Lunar Prospector “developed project logo stickers …, which appeared on everything from notebooks to janitor's barrels, and a motto.” Such symbols were not reported by the failed MCO interviewees. Thus, the unique artifacts instilled by leaders in the successful projects afford one explanation for the dissimilarity in participants' behavioral patterns, in comparison to this cultural expression component of spirit in the failed project in our sample. The case study findings suggest that failing to instill building activities that generate spirit weakened the behavioral norms for the inclusion component of spirit and taxed the capabilities of the failed MCO team.