Whole Brain

Project Management

For All



Gordon Webster – Herrmann Facilitator

Whole Brain Project Management For All


The Project Manager of today comes in many guises.  Until recently “Projects” had functional status and was seen as a distinctive profession with its own expertise, qualifications and body of knowledge.  This profession will remain distinctive for those carrying out specific projects such as building ships, tunnelling, installing information systems, bringing new products to large markets and so on.  What is new, is the increasing recognition by senior managers that their organisations of today need project management methods and cultures to take maximum advantage of their scarce resources in slimmed down structures.

The issues of down-sizing, de-layering, doing-more-with-less, empowerment, matrix working etc, all have in common, the opportunity for managers to see more and more of their tasks and objectives as distinctive projects.  Project work may differ from other kinds of work in as much as it:


-        is the responsibility of a single manager

-        has a budget allocated

-        has a defined beginning and end with a forecast life-cycle

-        may have tasks that will not be repeated

-        is likely to work cross functionally without formal authority

-        has working teams brought together only for the duration of the project.

If you recognise elements of the above in your current work, don’t be surprised.  In today’s business environment more projects are being managed by functional managers than by those with the formal title of project manager.  Many managers have not yet woken up to the fact that they are to all intents and purposes, Project Managers.  For example the sales manager introducing a new product to the sales force will follow a project life cycle.  This cycle will begin with the conceptual approach before defining the scope and the plan.  The plan will then be executed until the product is integrated with the sales force; becoming then a repetitive, operational matter.  A budget of money, time and expected results will be drawn up and perhaps a small project team will come together solely for the duration of the product launch.

The finance director changing the company management accounting process will also follow the project life cycle and definitions if the introduction is to have a chance of acceptance and success.

So what is so great about project working that makes it the process of the day and is to be practised by all self respecting managers?  The answer is the best practice project management gives the general manager all that is needed to run the business.  Project management embraces the techniques of objective task definition, planning, budgeting, measurement, contingency planning together with all the good practises of people management skills from persuasion and influencing, motivation and delegation to presentation skills.  If you want to give your people ownership, responsibility, opportunity to perform, visibility of learning then give them a project or two.

But perhaps the most persuasive benefit for those contemplating a project management culture, is the immediate access to the tools of project management.  Project managers have the most marvellous of tools (toys?) to play with.  They come complete with their own acronyms and labels producing a pithy language understood only by the initiated.  CPM, WBS, ADM, PDM, PERT, Gantt, MBO, MBE, NPV, BAC, BCWS, QCP, PRINCE and so on.  They all have a structured, logical sequence in their application concentrating as they do on the task element of the project.  For example, the WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) allows any manager to break down large tasks into bite size chunks so that these smaller work packages can be handled more easily.  CPM (Critical Path Method) and PERT (Programme Evaluation and Review Techniques) are now so similar that they are almost generic names to describe the total planning and control process.  They ask you to analytically identify and plot the tasks and associated resources needed for those tasks to bring coincidence of the two.  These are the tasks that must happen at the right time if the project is to be kept on track.

These tools and techniques have been developed continually since the first world war, often in the context of avoiding further, costly mistakes already made in one project or another.  This context is important because it brought to light the constant problems for the Project Manager, that of not knowing what was going on and exactly what state the project was in at any given time.  This often resulted in projects being delivered over time, over budget, and under quality.  So tools were invented to deal with time, budget and quality.  And now, software developments allow project managers to do the same things faster and more easily.  The major software houses are enjoying considerable sales of their respective versions of Project Manager which is not surprising as all these logical tools are ideal for the logically functioning computer.  All this sprouting paraphernalia is backed up by a burgeoning project management training industry undifferentiated and reduced to commodity trading status.  But are we dealing with the real underlying problems of project management today?

Probably not.  This bad news is illustrated in recent research by Pugh-Roberts Associates showing that less than 44.5% of major projects deliver to time, budget and quality.  The result of all this development of sophisticated tools and techniques and the training in their use thereof is failure, more often than not.  How can this be?

Brain Dominance

To explore this we can use a framework developed by Ned Herrmann in the United States over the past twenty years or so.  He was looking at the subject of brain dominance.  We have all met people, who are very bright and capable in a given area or skill but yet seem totally incapable at something apparently much more simple.  The “absent minded professor” is a good, if extreme example.  Quantum theory is no problem but the household accounts are beyond him/her.  A more business like example might be the big picture specialist who cannot see the difficulty in the detail, or vice versa!  As Herrmann put it “how can people be so clever and so dumb at the same time?”  Herrmann started his research looking for the source of creativity and, cutting a longer story short, his work took him into the area of brain dominance.  Over the years this research led him to the development of an instrument of method testing that allowed individuals to know their preferred ways and modes of thinking.  Taking the average of the results of a group of people of similar employment produces a profile for that occupation.  We can then forecast some of the likely behaviours and attitudes of the group.  This process helps to make transparent the different thinking styles of various professions and occupations, providing a firm base of understanding which helps in reducing friction and frustration.  Finance Managers will understand why Sales Managers can irritate them and vice versa.  Logistics will understand why R&D keep breaking the rules and the company order system.  And project managers might understand why they instinctively turn to tools and techniques as the answer to all their problems.  It is no different from the manager buying a filofax as the answer to all time management problems when the real change needed is in the mind-set and attitude towards the management of time.  That is why Britain’s lofts are full of half used filofaxes, soon to be joined by Project Management software.

Herrmann’s instrument has a physiological beginning taken partly from Roger Sperry’s findings which demonstrated that the left brain is responsible (amongst other things) for speech, linear, analytical and rational thought and that the right brain is more conceptual, emotive, spatial and holistic.  The left brain controls the right side of the body, the right brain the left side of the body.  From these beginnings grew the popular notion that the arts were peopled by a greater proportion of left handers than should be the case statistically.  At the last count Herrmann’s work was showing that this was not the case.

Fig 1.

Left Brain

                Right Brain









We have personal dominance in many things.  You are left or right handed, left or right footed.

Herrmann argues that this bodily dominance activity extends to the hemisphere(s) of the brain.  We are left or right brained by nature, nurture or by training.  Of course, very few people are entirely left or right anything – there tends to be a mix allowing us to use both sides to a greater or lesser degree.  Nonetheless this dominance is significant for Project Managers and the history of project management as we will see.  Another point worth bearing in mind is that although we may be strongly right handed, we can, with sufficient commitment and effort, make ourselves perfectly competent with the left hand.


Herrmann took the physiological research and over time developed the organising principle as shown in fig. 2.

Fig 2.


© Herrmann

Notice the four quadrants of the metaphor in Fig 3.  Not only is the brain hemispheric left and right as discussed, it is also hemispheric top (cerebral) and bottom (limbic).  The cerebral part of the brain is the most recently developed and is the area where most of our conscious thought takes place.  The limbic controls our emotional behaviour.  Some descriptive works have been added to each of the four quadrants.

Fig 3.



© Herrmann

Taking the quadrants in turn and reading the quadrant descriptors, you might like to reflect on your experience as a project manager and as a business employee.  Which of the styles of thinking are you most likely to respect?  Which quadrants appeal to you most in a business context?  Going back to your formative years in school, college or university, – in which quadrant were you predominantly taught?  Unless you specialised in the performing arts your education is likely to have come from the left side of the metaphor (A&B quadrants).  Requests to “Explain the logic demonstrated in your answer”,  Show your working”,  “Lay out your work showing a logical sequence” are familiar to us all.  Very few of us have had any formal education about people (C quadrant), although we recognise that working with others is a fundamental of sustained success.  As for day dreaming (D quadrant), suitable punishment was in order, yet many of us have found solutions to nagging problems in just that state.  Like the writer you may have been ambushed by the right answer in the middle of the night!

When it comes to leading projects then the quadrants can be summed up as follows:

Herrmann Leadership Styles                                                           Fig 5.

© Herrmann

Over the past couple of years the writer has been using the Herrmann Model with project managers and functional managers.  They have been on programmes developing the skills of project managers who come from many organisations including BT, Phillips Petroleum, British Gas Exploration, London International, Prudential Assurance, PA Consulting Group, National Power and others.  On asking them to plot the activities of the project manager on the Herrmann model, slight variations of the following are presented back but it can be represented by Fig. 6.

Hermann Brain Dominance and Leadership Processes Fig 6.


Figure 7 shows the areas where the “whole” brain is needed in addressing these particular topics.

Fig 7.

Whole Brain Processes in Project Leadership


The message from Project Managers is clear.  Effective project management is a whole-brained activity; therefore the effective project manager has to be able to operate in all quadrants.

Impact of Occupational Profiles.

As mentioned earlier, Herrmann has been able to produce an instrument that allows the measurement of an individual’s brain dominance.  He has collected the data from well in excess of 500,000 submissions largely in the USA, more than enough for our purposes.

In the course of running development programmes for Project Managers at Sundridge Park, we have been able to apply the instrument to determine brain dominance’s.  The results have allowed project managers to “see” their own preferences and provided a simple, easily learned but effective model for looking at the issues of the project manager of today.

Profiles are presented back using a target format.  Each quadrant is given a score which is plotted on the relevant axis.  The higher (further out) the score, the greater the degree of preference for that thinking style.

Scores that fall in the inner circle indicate that there is a preference to avoid this thinking style.  Scores that fall between the inner and the second circle indicate that the style will be used and scores falling outside the second circle indicate a preference for using the style, the preference increasing as the score increases.


Fig 8.

© Herrmann

It is likely that we will be a mix of preferences.  The majority of the population have more than one dominance.  So we are double dominant, triple dominant or indeed quadruple dominant.

From the research done by Herrmann the profiles in fig 9 have been seen to re-occur for occupations.  Accepting that we are likely to gravitate to use our areas of dominance then none of these are surprising.

Fig 9.

© Herrmann

Note that the multi-dominant Project Leader is positioned in the middle of the metaphor.  This profile is seen by project managers themselves as the general ideal for a Project Manager.  He can operate in any of the quadrants and takes them all into consideration.  There are times however when the project manager has to move away from the centre to pull or push a project on track.  An earlier poor analysis of the key performance indicators for a project will see the need for rectifying behaviours from the “A” and “B” quadrants.  This is fine provided that the project does not remain for ever in those quadrants.  The multi-dominant project leader can also interpret for the diagonally opposed views of project team members should the need occur, thus helping to maintain equilibrium in the team.

The project manager’s activities laid over the brain dominance model, drives home the point made by project managers themselves, that they are required to demonstrate multi dominant leader behaviour in the management of their projects.

Operating in all Quadrants

Operating in all quadrants is not easy.  For a start it will not have escaped your notice that there is tension across the diagonals of the model.  To illustrate the point take a look again at Fig. 9.

The “A” preference of the Engineer may well be irritated by the emotional approach and reaction of the Counsellors “C” preference to the extent of discounting anything said from that quarter.  “What on earth does the “correct” logical process of project management have to do with how people feel?”  What’s this feelings business anyway?  People don’t matter.  Facts is the thing.  Tell ‘em what’s got to be done by when and that’s all that is needed.  The plan is the result of brilliant analysis of the project objectives and will deliver the right answer to tell “em to get on with it”.

The Counsellor is of course equally frustrated because the team is totally demotivated by the constant application of Engineer’s logic to emotional issues.  Emotions have to be dealt with at an emotional level, facts won’t help.  Witness the great and good chemical companies telling us that the effluent coming out of their pipes is cleaner than the water out of our taps, and here are the facts to prove it.  The general public remain sceptical because it doesn’t feel right, their judgement is emotional not factual.  However, counsellor could have the team singing and caring all the way to failure just like engineer but for very different reasons.

Turning to Operations (“B” quadrant), here the concern is for the organisation of activity.  The desired outcome of this organising is more about having the right resources at the right time in the right place as per the plan, than whether the right things are being done.  Success is about efficiency and structure.  Activities are to conform with the plan and flexibility is not necessary if the plan is right.  This extreme of “B” behaviour is anathema to Entrepreneur and his excess of “D” behaviour.  Entrepreneur’s constant changes (as his creativity sees faster, better ways of doing things) means that operations never gets the beloved plan to bed and entrepreneur just doesn’t understand.

For entrepreneur the importance of being able to imagine and fantasise what’s possible is all important.  Fertile creativity can take leaps into the future in a way that leaves competition and colleagues breathless.  “Never mind the details, can’t you see the picture?  In one bound we’ll be there!”  The innovation combined with the integrative approach of the “D” quadrant is a heady and convincing mix but it needs to be balanced with a good dose of “A”.  Was the absence of “A” the reason for the Sinclair C5 debacle?  What about the Delorean Gull-wing?

The Sinclair C5 story could be summed up as having:

-          a dominance of “D” Quadrant.  (Fantasy)

-          an absence of “A” in analysing the market (Fact)

-          an absence of “B” in organising the market research and reading what is said (Form)

-          an absence of “C” in understanding how people felt about it (Feelings).

See fig 10.                                                                                                        Fig 10.


© Herrmann


Project Manager’s Profiles

The profiles of project managers collected so far indicate an average that looks like this:

Fig 11.


It will come as no surprise that we have this left brain preference.  Given that many project managers come from an engineering background which is a left brain occupation, it is expected.  A degree of “D” quadrant is also present, indicating imaginative creative problem solving approaches and strategic challenge to project definition.

The left brain dominance is at the expense of the “C” quadrant.  In asking the participants what it was like to work in their organisations, they described their own experiences in the following ways:


-         “I get dumped on”

-        “Nobody asks for my opinion, I just get told what to do”

-        “My resources get moved to another project and I’m the last to know”

-        “What teamwork? - the only thing that matters round here is the figures”

-        “When I indicate that things could be done better, I’m told to get out of the kitchen if I’m finding it is too hot”.

On being challenged about their own behaviour, it was clear that unsupportive behaviour existed at all levels, it was just that the mitigating circumstances were greater with project managers!

Implications for Project Managers

Going back to my opening remarks we saw the proliferation of tools and techniques that exist to help the project manager manage the task process better using a set of ever more logical tools.  Yet we still have a failure rate in excess of 50%.  Why?  So how can this be?

Quite simply the profession is addressing only part of the problem.  The part that it prefers to deal with; the analysis, the facts.  The measurement of tangible performance.  The measurement of money spent, money left.  How much have we done, how much have we still to do?  It’s good at that; it is logical and it can be seen and expressed in charts and flow diagrams.  There is no denying that it is very important and it needs to be right.  But it is not enough.

What about the activity that produces performance?


-        What are my people skill like?

-        How good is Joe?   For that matter what should he be good at anyway?

-        How well am I able to motivate?

-        Are my people really motivated?

-        In my heart of hearts do I really know how to lead my people?

-        Do I have a team?

-        Are they working well with each other?

-        What do I do if they are not?

I’ve just ignored it in the past because after all this project will finish and we’ll all move on to something new.  These skills are often called the “soft skills”, I don’t know about you but I find them particularly hard!

We know full well that it is our people that deliver projects; tools let us see what the right answer might look like but it is our people that get us to that right answer.

Analysis of Failed Projects

Project management has always been dominated by left brained approaches.  If a project, managed by a left-brained manager goes wrong then another, perhaps more experienced left-brained project manager investigates and a report presenting the findings will recommend further left-brained solutions, to ensure that what happened doesn’t happen again.

So these new logical, tighter controls (tools?) invariably “B” quadrant delivered but originating in “A” quadrant, will be introduced to deal with the symptoms.  Whilst the root causes of open communications and sound relationships between people are left lying until the next project failure, or the one after that.  The powerful issues of fear of failure, sanction and ridicule or simply lack of skill, will generally find their way round the most sophisticated, left brained control systems because they have greater power to impact each of us, individually.

In our recent experience at Sundridge Park, the stronger the request for training in tools and techniques to put projects right, the more likely that the real need lies elsewhere.

If people are the problem why are there not more tools to help us manage them?  Well, there are but the tools to help us manage people have results that are rather divorced in time from their application.  The results from spending time on team building at the beginning of the project life cycle can be hidden because who can say that they actually had any effect.  (An “A” brained statement if there ever was one but illustrative of the problem.)  Faith is not a strong point of “A” brainers!  A typical comment on programmes is “the time spent taking my guys out for a beer and a sandwich would be better spent progressing the project, and anyway my boss never takes me for a beer!”  A balancing of priorities and some role model behaviour is needed.

So using Herrmann we can for the first time view a metaphor for current practise project management.  We can see a profession that is dominated by “left-brainers” and by logical extension, left brain attitudes.  The exclusion of “C” interpersonal styles in favour of logic, analysis, administration and structure.  And so will this culture continue to be reinforced until intervention from “outside”, the profession.  As general managers become more and more aware of the power of project management processes in their organisations, so the interventions will come.

So where is the help coming from?  Step forward all those general managers who have not been brought up in the projects culture.  They will bring the skills that have grown in other functions.  They will challenge the existing, bring in their own experience and so things will change.  Both sides will benefit, the general manager from a good set of logical planning tools, – the project manager from a good dose of those hard, soft skills!

In figure 12 we can see that in a project situation the more people involved, the greater expectation of performance.  When synergy is produced we do better than expected.   More often however, the team suffers from “process loss” and achievement is less than expected.

Fig 12.

© Verax

The team suffering process short fall doesn’t know how it should work, it lacks a workable process for getting things done and we have all been there.


What Can I Do About It?

Look at the equation below in fig. 13.
                                                                                                                   Fig 13.


In broad terms, to have effective project management decisions we need high analytical qualities.  Experienced project managers tend to be pretty good at it; it’s where the plan comes from.  But to deliver the project we also need the high commitment of our people and so we must address those areas that may not rest comfortably upon us.  Intellectually we know we should support, coach, train, listen, chat to, meet and brief our people but do we actually do so?  I’m afraid the evidence is that we don’t.

Recently we had an experienced participant come through our Project Management programme.  He was vociferous in supporting the left brain approach as being the only effective way to manage a project team.  As far as he was concerned, you made your plan, briefed your people and told them to get on with it.  After four days of running a simulated project he memorably summed up his learning experience to other participants in the following way.

When I came to the programme, Project Management was a matter of solving problems similar to this one, and he then wrote-up on a flip chart.  If it takes 8 men 4 days to dig a hole 10 feet deep, how long will it take to dig a similar hole 20 feet deep?  Participants shouted the obvious answer of 8 days.  Wrong, he kept telling them and then proudly announced.  We can say it is 8 days only if the successful project manager and team of the first hole, is the same for the second hole.  Otherwise we are assuming that the leadership of the project manager and commitment from the team are present and we have no right to do so, unless we have planned to put them in place and take the actions to see them in place.

He was considerably closer to the future delivery of successful projects.

What Do I Do Now?

Draw what you consider your thinking styles profile is likely to be on the diagram below (Go back to figure 4 to help you with some of the key works and descriptions).


Firstly, look at the quadrant(s) where you consider yourself strong and match them with the behaviours that your thinking preferences indicate you prefer.  You should recognise some or all of the activities you consider important when managing projects.  Now look at the quadrants where you are at so strong and match them to the behaviours that you may not consider quite so vital in managing projects.  If you accept all that has gone before, the case for whole brained project management will be proven.  So at times you will need to push out into those quadrants where you are least comfortable and adopt behaviours that will not come readily to you.

“You may find that you are least inclined to address those issues emanating from your least favourite quadrant exactly when you most need to”.

Example:  If your most preferred style is in the “A” or “B” quadrant, you might find that at the beginning of your project you are concentrating on plans and early performance levels, when you should be building teams and teamwork.  When you get to the middle of your project, you discover that you have a fragmented team, you are forced to team build but it is all too late.

Example:  If your least preferred style is “A” or “B” quadrant then you will be delighted to get to the end of your plan which includes, budget, critical path, HR plan, Quality Plan, Training Plan etc.  Having done all that you can’t wait to get cracking with your people and more planning for contingency is more than you can face.  In the middle of your project your most important team member is taken away – it’s too late to plan contingency now and you are into good old crisis management with all the associated disruption that it brings.

Learn from your description of yourself.  Have you had difficulties in the past through ignoring the activities in a least preferred quadrant?  If so, what are you going to do differently?  Start taking action or nothing will change.


The model and figure 14 sums up the things you need to think about in your project management.

Fig 14.


Why not blow it up and stick it on your wall and every day you can ask yourself if you are addressing all the quadrants to help keep tasks and processes in balance.  By applying “Whole Brained Project Management” you are more likely to be a member of the 441/2% club of constantly successful project managers.

Project Managers need to be whole brained!

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