A recent HBR article about the issues with a purely top-down or purely bottom-up approach to process improvement struck a chord as I feel this accurately illustrates one of the challenges faced by many PM or PPM (Project Portfolio Management) improvement initiatives.
The article identifies the (very natural) lack of internalization that front-line staff feel when they are told what to do as they don’t feel any sense of ownership for proposed changes. Conversely, behavior change is expected at governance or decision-making levels in the organization, so trying to mature practices using a grass roots approach may never percolate to the necessary executive levels or might just reinforce “Theory X” stereotypes on the part of the leadership team.
How do you achieve a good balance between the “push” and “pull” approaches to changing PM or PPM practices? I believe a lot can be gained through effective training and change involvement.
Some of the most successful initiatives I’ve witnessed started by providing a basic level of PM & PPM training to ALL staff, regardless of their role. Establishing common understanding across all levels can facilitate organization alignment and support consistency. Most staff appreciate opportunities to learn, and providing such formal training demonstrates a willingness on the part of the company to invest in its staff when implementing major change.
Engagement is the other important ingredient – many initiatives rely heavily on external consultants working with the leadership team to define the vision for the “to be” state, designing processes and implementing supporting tools and developing the plans to transition from the current state, but there is minimal involvement of affected staff and roles. While vision, scope & sponsorship must come from the top down for a PPM or PM improvement initiative, the development of the changes should include representation from key participants in the new processes. This can reduce the likelihood that a process that looks good on paper from the executive boardroom is actually not viable in the trenches. It also starts to foster support at all levels of the organization – an ideal way to overcome change resistance is to identify the key line staff that are likely to be the strongest naysayers and heavily involve them in the change process. Of course, this engagement at all levels requires its own set of mind shifts – line staff need to put aside their cynicism of senior management, and executives need to respect, listen to and incorporate feedback from the front lines.
As with any strategic change, there is no “one size fits all” recipe, but investing in wall-to-wall training and engaging key roles within the change process can help you find the happy medium between push and pull.