When will we really Lean In to good project management practices?

longclimbWhile watching Sheryl Sandberg’s December 2013 TEDWomen follow-up to her ground-breaking 2010 presentation, I thought of organizational project management maturity.  While most of the interview is inspirational and uplifting, during the last minute Sheryl indicates that in spite of the tremendous interest that her presentation and subsequent book has generated, the wage gap between women and men in the U.S. has not changed over the last three years.

This got me thinking about why many organizations don’t appear to have learnt lessons in good project management.  Yes, depending on which industry survey you follow it does look like project success rates are improving, but my concern is that they are not improving fast enough.  Given the significant real and opportunity costs avoided with improved predictability of project outcomes, one would think that there would be a burning desire for leadership teams to not add to any negative statistics.

Similar to the global interest generated by Lean In, project management is riding a wave that has been rolling for almost two decades.  And yet, we continue to see the same tired root causes for project failure occur such as the inappropriate tailoring of practices to fit the needs of a project, poor stakeholder engagement and management, ineffective sponsorship or governance and lip service given to critical knowledge areas such as project quality and project risk management.

Project-driven organizations are more likely to learn from their mistakes as it becomes a question of economic viability for them.  However, for companies where the majority of their work is operational or transactional, mediocrity often passes for good enough when it comes to project management capabilities.

There are a few root causes for this lack of improvement:

  • There is insufficient disincentive to force leadership teams to fully embrace and champion the behavioral changes which are critical to implementing and sustaining project management capability improvements.
  • Grass roots-driven tactical improvements do occur but project management practitioners who have left higher maturity companies to join organizations at lower levels of capability usually have two options: resist (and leave) or serve.  A snowball effect can happen, but it does require a significant concentrated group of mature practitioners.
  • Improvement initiatives driven by individual executives also frequently meet the same fate as few have the fortitude to push for sustained behavioral change at all levels of the organization.
  • And finally, the “it won’t happen to us” myth.

Capability improvement IS happening but at a glacial pace compared to what one would expect based on effort spent.  Perhaps we all just need to Lean In further!

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

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