According to John Kotter’s model for leading change, the first step to overcoming inertia requires us to instill a sense of true urgency in those we need to support, implement and sustain the change. While it is ideal if this urgency is tied to What’s In It For Me, at a minimum, we all want proof that committing our time and political influence to a particular initiative at this very moment is cheaper than the cost of doing nothing.
But the steps in Kotter’s model, like PMBOK processes, are not to be followed in a purely sequential manner.
Significant organization transformations usually require a year or more to become “the new normal” and we are only fooling ourselves if we assume that those stakeholders who were focused and motivated to champion our initiative in its early days will continue to remain so for the long haul. Executives and mid-level managers are constantly juggling competing priorities and as long as it appears that a change initiative is not on fire, their attention spans are likely to be shorter than that of a goldfish.
As such, we need to iterate back to instilling that sense of true urgency at regular intervals. The specific cadence varies based on the complexity and duration of a transformation. Fan the flames too rarely and the spark will be extinguished. Do it too often and you’ll be treated like the boy who cried “Wolf!”.
But is reminding stakeholders that they need to support us enough to gain this support? Maintaining focus requires quid pro quo otherwise we are likely to hear “What have you done for me lately?”
This is why regardless of the nature of a transformation we need to inject agility into its delivery. We can follow adapted versions of key Manifesto principles such as:
- Our highest priority is to satisfy our stakeholders through early and continuous delivery of business value
- Deliver business value frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to implement change more effectively, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly
- Change champions and the team must work together frequently throughout the transformation
Newton’s first law: An object at rest remains at rest, or if in motion, remains in motion at a constant velocity unless acted on by a net external force.
Anyone who has read the PMBOK Guide or taken the PMP exam knows that project management is made up of an interconnected and iterative set of processes. Even a highly predictable project requires a team to iterate back to earlier executed processes when faced with a change request.
So why is it that we tend to forget to re-execute certain key project management processes? It’s likely because they aren’t as well understood by our team, sponsor and other key stakeholders. It’s rare that maintaining schedule or financial baselines and forecasting these project dimensions is neglected as there are usually external forces ensuring that this occurs periodically.
But let’s think about risk and stakeholder identification and analysis. Just like developing a schedule or a budget, these processes are commonly performed early in the life of our projects. But it is very common to find projects where these processes are never revisited.
The risk of ignoring them is significant.
Skipping out on full lifecycle risk management means we could continue to invest in monitoring obsolete risks while remaining blissfully unaware of new threats or opportunities. We might also be missing changes in the profile of existing risks. Some low risks on our watch-list might have increased in severity whereas others which we are actively responding to could have dropped in priority. As risk responses are implemented we want to understand what residual risk remains and update our knowledge of these risks accordingly.
The same holds true for stakeholder information and engagement activities. We might miss a new highly influential or impactful stakeholder that arrives on the scene after our initial stakeholder analysis. Or a stakeholder whom we felt had little interest in our project might become more visible than before.
We expect that overall risk and the relative influence of stakeholders should decrease over the life of a project as we start delivering scope and uncertainty decreases but if we keep looking in our rear view mirrors we are likely to miss the runaway Mack truck bearing down on us.
Avoiding this requires discipline on the part of the project manager. Consciously challenging themselves and the team to periodically revisit risk and stakeholder registers for currency and accuracy can reduce the likelihood of occurrence.
To extend Donald Rumsfeld’s famous taxonomy, we create unknown-knowns by not iterating back through all applicable project management processes.