Plus ca change, plus ca reste la meme chose…

imageThe saying above translates to “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.

We don’t implement change just for the sake of implementing change.

Sponsors are funding our projects to deliver business value and often times, achieving that business value requires that people change how or what they are doing on an ongoing basis.

And in spite of significant interest and focus on organization change management over the past couple of decades, that remains the Achilles Heel of many change initiatives.

An appropriate sense of urgency may have been instilled, effective communications may have been planned and implemented, and the “to be” state might have had input and committed advocacy from representatives from multiple stakeholder groups. But how often does that emphasis persist beyond the first few months after the change is implemented? The effort required to sustain the change wanes, and focus usually shifts to the next bright, shiny bauble.

What are some contributors to this?

  • Executive musical chairs – when leaders change roles every two years or even more frequently, the ability to champion the sustainment of a transformation requires their successors to have the same agendas as they did. This is rarely the case – most leaders want to be known for introducing changes than sustaining a previously implemented one. Until organizations begin to incent leaders to remain in their roles for a meaningful length of time, sustainability of any meaningful changes is likely to be at risk.
  • Short-termism – while this behavor is more common in publicly traded companies, it is also a sin of many private ones. The emphasis on short-term profits means that the effort required to sustain a change past the early post-implementation days are likely to be redirected to launch new initiatives.
  • Continuous change – a basic tenet of most process excellence frameworks is that you must first confirm process stability before assessing and improving capability. But if there is no time allowed between change initiatives impacting a particular stakeholder group to fully adopt the new procedures, the process is never stable.

These can create a vicious cycle – as more and more changes get implemented with poor sustainment, stakeholders become less and less likely to commit their efforts to more changes. You’ll get superficial buy-in, but no follow through which ensures that future changes have an even lower likelihood of succeeding.

Start with the end in mind.

Knowing that sustainment might be your biggest challenge, expend the effort upfront to figure out how to overcome this, and if the likelihood of successful sustainment is low, make that information a key input into the decision of whether or not to proceed with the change initiative.

Just because you can implement change, doesn’t mean you should.

Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Unintended consequences…

imageAn organization decides to introduce a progressive governance oversight approach for projects using estimated budget as the main criterion for determining how much scrutiny funding requests will receive. While there will be grudging acceptance of the change, without other checks and balances in place, sponsors will become adept at splitting up their larger initiatives so that they fall just below the oversight thresholds. Governance over costly initiatives improves, but almost no large projects get launched.

Let’s assume that time tracking is introduced for the first time within a workgroup. Given the significant change in behavior that will introduce, the organization decides to start publishing the names of those staff who have neglected to submit their timesheets on time. While this achieves the objective of increasing timely timesheet submission, it soon becomes clear that staff are just entering a full week’s allocation against the main projects to which they have been assigned instead of entering true actuals. Compliance has improved, but data quality has decreased.

The leadership team is tired of getting project updates through traditional steering committee or portfolio review meetings, and demands that a centralized reporting system be implemented. They now have the ability to get project updates in near real time, but project managers don’t update the system in a timely, quality fashion so decisions are made on faulty data. Efficiency has improved at the cost of effectiveness.

What do all of these scenarios have in common? Good management intent focused on a primary measure, but the outcome leaves a lot to be desired.

How could this have been avoided?

First, secondary measures should have been identified. These act as the conscience of the change ensuring that the side effects of improvements to the primary measure are considered and mitigated.

Second, involve all key stakeholders in the design and implementation of the change. It never ceases to amaze me that the same professionals who wouldn’t dream of managing a project without proper stakeholder engagement will design and rollout project management practice changes with minimal external participation. Will all stakeholders be on board with the proposed changes? Of course not, but at least they can provide their input into reducing the likelihood of significant negative impact to one or more secondary measures.

Finally, the primary and key secondary measures should be measured before and then regularly monitored after the change to ensure that consequences of the change can be quickly identified and addressed.

We learn early in school that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Unfortunately, this is often the case when changes to project management practices are introduced, but with effective stakeholder engagment and monitoring of secondary measures, you might be able to overcome Newton’s third law.

Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Process Peeves, Project Management | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Decision-making authority ain’t all it’s cracked up to be!

imageIf I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times – “I wish I had more decision making authority”!

Whether it’s formal authority over their team members, handling of an issue, establishing project governance, or setting direction, there is a common sentiment that the grass is greener when it comes to decision making.

Don’t kid yourself – managing projects wouldn’t be that much easier.

Imagine that you are the owner of a private company with no debt owed to outside investors. You have complete authority over all decisions made within your company – within the boundaries of the law, of course!

Will that guarantee that your company would succeed? Does that automatically mean that you will enjoy your work that much more?

Of course not.

Success comes down to having the right product or service at the right time, developed and delivered in the right way by the right people at the right price point to the right customers, and unfortunately, all the decision-making authority in the world won’t ensure all those stars align.

On top of that, it can be a pretty lonely existence – total decision-making authority would naturally separate or alienate you from the others you work with no matter how much benevolency you’d show.

And finally, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Just because you can make all the decisions doesn’t mean you should – with great power comes great responsibility. Acting on the temptation to cut corners by unilaterally making decisions is a great way to lose your best team members.

In the end, you will have reaped the real “reward” of omnipotence – being able to proudly say that the project’s failure was yours and yours alone.

Act as if you are the CEO of your project, but be thankful that you can benefit from diffused decision making authority: strength through diversity, healthy conflict and greater ownership and engagement.

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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