Facilitating Organization Change

Random thoughts on organization changes

Change management helps when implementing risk responses

A student in a project management class I taught shared the concern that it was very hard for her to get risk responses implemented. This is a fairly common problem and is likely one of the reasons that the volunteers who updated the PMBOK Guide, Sixth Edition added Implement Risk Responses as a new process within the Project Risk Management knowledge area.

Most companies which have project management standards require teams to identify and analyze risks, but merely capturing information in risk registers is worthless if nothing is actually done to manage those risks. Acceptance is a risk response strategy, but project managers are not supposed to just report on accidents, they are expected to prevent them. But there’s only so much that they can do by themselves. Risk management requires investment from stakeholders outside of the project team to really make a difference.

Getting a reluctant stakeholder to commit themselves to a risk response requires change management so let’s see if Prosci’s ADKAR® change model could be used as a framework to achieve this objective.

Awareness & Desire: If the proposed risk response owner is not aware of the need for them to participate, nothing will happen. Sending them a risk register by e-mail and asking them to review the risks which they can help with isn’t likely to generate a prompt response. Meeting with them in person and clearly articulating the nature of the risks and the proposed responses might work better. Response owner awareness is a good starting point, but why should they expend their valuable time, money or political influence? Helping them understand how they have “skin in the game” for the project’s success will be critical if you want them to commit themselves.

Knowledge & Ability: Does the response owner clearly understand what you’d like them to do and do they possess sufficient context regarding the risk? Do they already have the necessary knowledge to plan and execute the response, and if not, how can you simplify that learning curve?

Reinforcement: Just because you’ve had a meeting with the response owner and they’ve bought in to the need for their action doesn’t mean that you can wash your hands of the risk. Regularly reporting on the status of implementing risk responses to your sponsor and key stakeholders as well as following up with response owners will be needed to increase the likelihood of follow through.

Read any of the case studies which are published in PMI’s monthly PM Network magazine and effective risk management is nearly always identified as a contributor to a team’s success on large, complex projects. But without addressing the need for personal change, your risk management efforts are likely to remain an academic exercise.

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Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Breaking habits requires substituting one routine for another

I was asked to facilitate a lessons learned session for a program team using a retrospective format. After the team had brainstormed, prioritized and discussed most of the challenges they had faced, it became clear to them that there were only a couple of root causes for most of the main pain points they had identified. Neither of those root causes was a true learning but rather they were just simple reminders of good practices to follow for large, complex programs. I then asked them the somewhat rhetorical question: “Remembering now what should have been done then, how will you ensure that this doesn’t happen on a future program?”

A project team I’ve been working with has struggled with judging how many work items they can successfully complete within a sprint. In the retrospective for their last sprint, they identified a number of simple, effective ideas for resolving this chronic concern. Again, I challenged them with the same question: “You’ve come up with a great list of ideas, but how will you ensure that you actually act on those the next time you are sprint planning?”

Both of these experiences reminded me of how difficult it is to break habits.

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg has written about the three part neurological loop governing habits which was discovered by MIT researchers: a cue, a routine and a reward.

In the project team’s case, the routine has been to accept more work items than they can complete in a sprint even when historical evidence shows this tactic hasn’t worked out well. The cue is that moment in the sprint planning ceremony when the team makes their sprint forecast. It’s hard to say what the reward has been but perhaps it’s the temporary high which comes when we take on a significant challenge as a team.

To break habits, we need to find a way to substitute a different routine for the old one and soliciting the help of a close, trusted colleague might be one way to do this.

The team could designate a single individual to come to the sprint planning ceremony with a stuffed pig or some other visual gag which represents gluttony. Then, when the team is about to forecast how much they will accept in the sprint, that team member could hold up the pig and say “Oink! Oink!” to remind all of them to be a little more conservative. While the team might not bask in the short term glow of having accepted a bloated sprint forecast, they will enjoy the much more rewarding experience during their sprint review when the product owner and other stakeholders congratulate them for improving their predictability.

Breaking habits is hard to do but by identifying cues and implementing good routines to swap in for the old ones, we can prevail.

 

 

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

Control partners should have skin in the game!

I finally completed reading Nassim Taleb‘s book Skin in the Game which I had written about in a recent article.

In that piece I had applied his principles when comparing the benefits of a product-centric orientation to the project-centric model which is still found in many organizations. But after finishing the book, I realized that there is a much more compelling example of the challenges experienced with risk asymmetry in many large organizations, namely with those staff who are responsible for developing the policies, standards and methods used by teams for delivering projects or products.

In small companies, how a product gets developed and delivered is usually defined by a “Big Brain” (e.g. a solution owner or similar role) or developed collaboratively by those actually building the solution. But as the size of the organization increases and stakes get higher, control partners emerge to influence not only what but how production occurs.

Where things get difficult is when these control partners do not experience first-hand the downside of their decisions.

For example, in some companies, project management standards are set by a centralized department such as a PMO. While some delivery roles such as program or project managers might report in to the same PMO, there are staff whose sole focus will be to define and maintain standards. As those staff are not in a project delivery role, even if they possess years of practical experience, as they won’t themselves have to use the templates and tools which they have developed, they don’t have true skin in the game. Delivery staff may complain to control partners about how onerous or non-value add specific practices are, but there is little direct impact to them.

There are a couple of ways to rectify this situation:

  • Serving in such control functions could be a rotational responsibility. After someone has spent a reasonable amount of time in a control role, they should be required to spend an equal amount of time in a delivery role. This will also help them better identify patterns and anti-patterns specific to a given context.
  • Introduce performance measures and incentives for control staff which are tied to the impacts created by their work as opposed to just the completion of this work. For example, quantifying the cost of control or conducting regular satisfaction surveys with delivery staff are two methods in which we could bring back skin in the game.

Method makers and framework formulators – practice what you preach!

 

 

 

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

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