Unlocking a Project Team’s High-Performance Potential Using Cognitive Readiness: A Research Study Report and Call to Action


By Russell D. Archibald, Ivano Di Filippo, Daniele Di Filippo and Shane C. Archibald 

Italy, Mexico & USA

Executive Summary 

High-Performance Teams (HPTs) is a concept within organization development referring to teams and organizations that are highly focused on their goals and that achieve superior business results. High-performance teams outperform other similar teams and gained popular acceptance in the US by the 1980s, with adoption by many organizations. (Katzenback 2003.) However, without understanding the underlying dynamics that created them, and without adequate time and resources to develop them, most of these attempts failed. With this failure, HPTs fell out of general favor by 1995, and the term high-performance began to be used in a promotional context, rather than a performance-based one. (Hanlan 2004.)

“Although there are many teams achieving more than 50 percent improvements in a single success dimension in less than a year, the critical difference in High Performance Teams is that they make orders of magnitude improvements in all four dimensions simultaneously,” Hanlan says, referring to manufacturing and service teams (Hanlan 2004.)

Within the past 10 to 15 years some private sector and government sector organizations have placed new focus on HPTs, as new studies and understandings have identified the key processes and team dynamics necessary to create all-around quantum performance improvements. (Katzenbach et al 2000.) With these new tools, organizations such as Kraft FoodsGeneral ElectricExelon, and the US government have focused new attention on high-performance teams. This effort relating to teams falls within a broader movement of developing high-performance organizations, as discussed by Andre de Waal in “Characteristics of High Performance Organizations.”

Cognitive Readiness in Project Teams:          The important concept of Cognitive Readiness in project teams is presented in this report and discussed as a new element to be considered in managing projects, with the objective of achieving greater project success through high team performance. Projects only become alive and real when people are assigned to the project team, starting with the project manager, and projects exist within a field of project stakeholders. Of course, the project manager and the other project team members are themselves internal project stakeholders, together with the several other types of external project stakeholders, as discussed below. Thus, human behavior within and across these two groups (project teams and stakeholders) directly affects every project throughout its life cycle. Applying the knowledge of human behavior provided to us by the advances in cognitive psychology enables project managers to build high-performance teams through perception, observation, appraisal, measurement, management, and improvement of project team members’ and stakeholders’ behavior, leading to greater project success. The need for high-performance, cognitive-ready teams is greater for innovative and transformative projects and programs than for commercial, delivery projects, although both of these types can benefit substantially when high performance of their teams is achieved.

Basic Cognitive Concepts: The basic concepts of cognitive psychology and Cognitive Readiness for project teams are presented, including both Cognitive Constraints and Enablers. Definitions of these are conveyed through well-known examples from widely accepted psychology precepts. We introduce an outline of a method to obtain the best in agency, commitment and other “cognitive” factors from the project team, thus obtaining maximum project success through high performance of the team. The use of this method spans the entire Comprehensive Project Life Cycle. Consequences of this new approach are:

  • Introduction of Cognitive Readiness as a new key element in project management team building and performance metrics: 1) scope, 2) time, 3) cost, 4) quality, 5) risk, 6) benefits, and 7) Cognitive Readiness of the project team.
  • Introduction of the cognitively qualified project manager as a new soft skill for project managers.

We forecast that the cognitively qualified project manager will become a new focus of maturity in project management.

A Note about Projects, Programs, and Portfolios: We focus in this report primarily on projects, but the concepts apply equally well to programs (or programmes for some) and portfolios of projects and programs, since executive teams (often titled “Portfolio Steering Committee”) usually hold responsibility for prioritizing and authorizing projects and programs.

The Objective of this Report is to create a greater awareness and understanding throughout the global project, program, and portfolio management communities of the importance of, and potential benefits from, applying cognitive psychology advances to project teams. We believe the approach described here will produce high-performance project teams and substantial benefits derived from greater project success and delivery of greater business value. Much work remains to be accomplished to translate the approach we describe here into procedures and methods ready to be applied in the field.

Structure of the report: This report consists of these nine sections:

More (with footnotes and references)…

To read entire article (click here)

About the Authors

flag-usa-mexicorussell d archibaldRussell D. Archibald                 


Russell D. Archibald: PhD (Hon) ESC-Lille (Fr), MSc (U of Texas) & BS (U of Missouri) Mechanical Engineering, PMP, Fellow PMI and Honorary Fellow APM/IPMA (member of the Board of IPMA/INTERNET 1974-83), held engineering and executive positions in aerospace, petroleum, telecommunications, and automotive industries in the USA, France, Mexico and Venezuela (1948-1982). Russ also had 9 years of active duty as a pilot officer with the U.S. Army Air Corps (1943-46) and as a Senior Pilot and Project Engineer with the U. S. Air Force (1951-58.) Since 1982 he has consulted to companies, agencies and development banks in 16 countries on 4 continents, and has taught project management principles and practices to thousands of managers and specialists around the world. He is co-author (with Shane Archibald) of Leading and Managing Innovation: What Every Executive Team Must Know About Project, Program, and Portfolio Management (2013); author of Managing High-Technology Programs and Projects (3rd Edition 2003), also published in Russian, Italian, and Chinese; other books (in English, Italian, Japanese, and Hungarian); and many papers on project management.

Web-site: http://russarchibald.com  E-mail: [email protected]  LinkedIn: profile

flag-italypmwj16-nov2013-archibald-difillipo-AUTHOR IMAGE 2 I DI FILIPPOIvano Di Filippo                             


Ivano Di Filippo: Certified PM and Member of Istituto Italiano di Project Management/ISIPM Member of Professional “Project management – Level 7” list held by ASSIREP. Team leader of Genial Software, a high performance expert team. Ivano has over 20 years of experience as a consultant and project manager in business information and systems development. During three years of study with the medical faculty at La Sapienza University in Rome he developed a strong interest in subjects concerning human behavior and human mental processes, and has continued over many years to cultivate and develop this interest by applying the cognitive psychological theories as an important key to success in the numerous projects he has directed. Contemporarily he studied computer science to become a web site programmer and IT programmer as applied in project management. Ivano has 25 years with Radiotaxi 3570 Company, Rome, Italy, (the largest Radiotaxi company in Europe) and at present he is in charge of human resources in its Operations Control room.  He is the author of “When Does a Project Start? The Critical Buffering Theory” in the Magazine “Il Project Manager” No. 8, 2011, published by Franco Angeli.

Website: www.genialsoftware.it    Email: [email protected]    LinkedIn: profile

pmwj16-nov2013-archibald-difillipo-AUTHOR IMAGE 3 D DI FILIPPOflag-italyDaniele Di Filippo                                 


Daniele Di Filippo: Graduate Student at Roma Tre University (Rome, Italy) in Computer Engineering, he received his bachelor degree in July 2012, after having concluded an internship at NTT Data Company. Member of Istituto Italiano di Project Management/ISIPM. He participated in the InnovAction Lab 2013, where he further developed teamwork and business skills, including the challenges encountered in starting up new enterprises. He was part of the logistics management at Umap 2013 International Conference on User Modeling, Adaptation and Personalization. Daniele is currently studying for his Master Degree in Computer Engineering  and his Thesis will focus on the design of software for Project Management Cognitive Readiness Standards to be used as a concrete tool within companies. He is involved in the Brain Activity Map Project, supported in Europe by the Human Brain Project/HBP, which aligns with the NIH BRAIN Initiative in the USA.

Website: http://danieledifilippo.wordpress.com  Email: [email protected]  LinkedIn: profile  

flag-usapmwj16-nov2013-archibald-difillipo-AUTHOR IMAGE 4 S ARCHIBALDShane C. Archibald                                


Shane C. Archibald: BSc, Managing Principal, Archibald Associates llc. Shane has 20 years of experience in the development and implementation of advanced, integrated project management processes and systems on large complex projects and programs in several industries and governmental agencies. Most recently, he implemented the first phase of Project Controls applications and procedures for a large international heavy equipment design-manufacture-installation corporation, including advanced planning, scheduling, cost management, contract management, change management, and risk management processes. Co-author (with Russell Archibald) of Leading and Managing Innovation: What Every Executive Team Must Know About Project, Program, and Portfolio Management (2013). Previously Shane has:

  • Developed and documented the project planning and control policies, processes and procedures for a US$10+ Billion transportation engineering & construction portfolio for one of the 50 United States, and managed the scheduling effort for that portfolio. Provided Subject Matter Expertise for a State-Wide Project Controls System Implementation.
  • Managed the Project Controls Department for the Washington State Ferries, Terminal Engineering and Construction program, valued at US$1+ Billion.
  • Managed the scheduling effort on a nation-wide US$4+ Billion telecommunication systems and facilities upgrade project.
  • Managed the development process of a set of Web-based global enterprise products (shipping, pricing and logistics.)
  • Implemented various project management and controls software applications and integration efforts, including several generations of Oracle Primavera systems.

Website: ArchibaldAssociates.com    Email: [email protected] LinkedIn: profile