With project management improvements, fear is the highest fence!

Improving project management maturity can be a slow, painful process.

An early hurdle to overcome is convincing the senior leadership team of the benefits of project management.  Presenting sufficient local evidence of the impacts of a “just do it” culture coupled with advice from unbiased third-party consultants may help to convince executives of its merits.  Once this light bulb goes off, a flurry of activity usually occurs with introduction of governance changes related to project intake and prioritization, and implementation of a few standard practices & tools.  This change may translate into some modest improvements in project success and predictability.

But at some point, progress stalls – project success rates don’t appear to continuously improve and flare ups increase between project and functional managers.  If this plateau persists for too long, someone is likely to use project management as a scapegoat, and it gets marginalized.

One way to avoid this is to recognize that most of the resistance to change originates from fear.  This could be fear of loss of power (e.g. the shift in responsibility from functional to project managers) or fears of what greater visibility might imply.  When we feel fear, there is a strong tendency to rely on our lizard brains and to invoke fight or flight responses – the former is seen in conflicts between project leaders and other staff while the latter shows up as passive resistance or lack of compliance to practice changes.

Beyond the usual change management doctrine of involving affected staff, socializing the changes, and rolling changes out incrementally, an additional tactic to consider is to help staff identify, explore and manage their fears. With acknowledgement and open discussion about staff concerns it can demonstrate empathy and could help to debunk many of the myths and misconceptions they might have about project management.  Understanding their fears can help you to prepare effective communication strategies and implementation plans.

Bill Cosby said it best: “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.”


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

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