An 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.