Sunday, 28 February 2010 00:00

When PMs OD, Projects Run Better

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

Most projects do not fail for the problems on the project; they fail for the problems in the organizations associated with them. Even issues within the project are usually personnel related requiring the project manager to do more counseling than managing. So where does the project manager get these skills? Unfortunately, they come from experience; few come from formal training. Instead, project managers get training on process, which, as can be seen in many of my articles, is misguided. Project managers need to spend more time developing the organizations, making them stronger. Without doing extensive organization development, projects will continue to fail.

Organization Development

Yes, I am talking a different OD, Organization Development, to be exact. OD is a discipline that treats organizations as systems, much as one might look at a human as a system of interconnecting and dependent parts residing in a society. The interconnecting parts (the things inside the project) affect the system as much as the people and conditions around the being (things outside the project). For example, a person can get a cold and it negatively affects the body, but that cold comes from the environment, its origin is outside the body. Just as with our bodies, over seventy percent of a project's problems are from the outside.

OD Genesis

Organization Development, as a discipline, began in the 1940s and was thrust into common business vernacular fifty years later when Peter Senge wrote The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Today, its importance grows as the pace of businesses increases, positions become more volatile, and business goals change at an ever-increasing rate. The OD philosophy advocates looking at problems in a holistic manner rather than working with individual people, groups, events, or problems.

The Tools

OD practitioners help an organization function better by looking at people, their interactions, and the internal and external influences on them. This top-down, organization-wide effort focuses on increasing the effectiveness and health of the organization. Tools that OD practitioners use are easily trained techniques that are available in many professional development curriculum (a local example is the OD program in the Professional Development Center at Portland State University). These practices include:

  • Treating the organization as a system rather than individual pieces (systems thinking)
  • Focusing the organization on their positive aspects leveraging what they are doing correctly (appreciative inquiry)
  • Creating an organizational mentality that thrives on and accommodates organizational change
  • Working with individuals and groups to improve their ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions (emotional intelligence) stabilizing the group and promoting its health
  • Taking purposeful actions in organizations (interventions), disrupting the status quo and feeding organizational learning through questioning the norm
  • Promoting on-line learning
  • Coaching teams and individuals on OD techniques
  • Facilitating the creation of self-managed, self-directed and self-organizing teams (sounds a lot like Agile)

The Process

Grounding the organization in these key principles creates a learning organization. Project or functional managers can enlist the help of practitioner to support fixing these problems. However, the organization must fix the problems.

The typical interaction with an organization entails six steps:

  1. Engaging and establishing the goals
  2. Assessing the organization's needs
  3. Providing feedback to the organization
  4. Creating an action plan
  5. Performing interventions, implementing the results and evaluating their success
  6. Closing the engagement

Practicing OD on a project is troublesome due to the organizations attitude on projects. Projects, by definition, are focused on building a product or service. Improving the organization is generally outside its scope. To add to this problem, many projects are staffed with temporary contract labor or are remote from the company's OD experience. Trying to apply OD practices in these situations is difficult, however, for the same reason it is critical. In order to form a cohesive team quickly, one that works seamlessly with the support organizations outside the project, these principles are essential.

Learning More

Since most organizations have not made the connection between the organization's health and that project managers need to be versed in using these tools, continued education is often left to the project manager. Resources, in addition to the ones mentioned above, include the Organization Development Network (ODN) and its local chapters. Most chapters work hard to promote OD and educate individuals and companies on the practice. One example is the Oregon ODN (OODN) based in Portland. This group uses social media heavily to communicate OD knowledge. OODN's meetings are open to the public, their LinkedIn group welcomes non-members, and their new twitter account (@OregonODN) servers up articles from a variety of OD practitioners.

Read 7475 times

Related items

  • Process Mapping

    Process is at the core of any business. It makes work predictable, repeatable, and transferable. Without it we cannot scale our businesses. However, process can be a bane to making progress. Processes that work for a $10 million company have difficulties supporting a $30 million company. Trying to scale them to a $300 million company will not only fail but not address the issues that larger companies have that were never dreamt of in a smaller organization. Processes need to be discarded, revamped, and built—all of that without creating an overburdening bureaucracy.

    Anytime you need to go someplace, you first have to know where you are. Processes are never static and your company's current state is probably far from where you think it is. Hence, the first step is mapping out you company's current state followed by defining the future state. This is more than a logical map of the process; it must also include physical maps. Whether your process is solely to provide a service (say, website development) or physical (say, manufacturing) there are logistical issues that complicate the process flow. Without fully understanding those nuances, future state processes will not reach the desired efficiencies.

    For more information about process mapping fill out the form to the left and we will get in touch with you.

  • Success vs Culture

    The other day a Latvian student contacted me for my views the connection between culture and success criteria—an important and intriguing topic. After working in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Israel, United States, and Canada, I wear many scars of both blatant and subtle cultural violations. I also know that within a culture one person's success is often another person's failure. So, after dispelling concerns about clicking on some random email link, I completed her survey (please feel free to take it yourself). In the process, I struck up a friendship with the student, Kristine Briežkalne, who is studying at Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration . She has some interesting views and presented me with a Venn diagram showing four frames to a project (business, client, project management, and growth perspectives) and how they intersected. As the diagram is part of her Master's thesis, I will let you ponder the how to label the overlapping areas (an eye-opening exercise).

  • Kill The White Knight

    There is a reason we do not teach classes on fixing failing projects. Many a cynic feels that we simply do not want to teach our trade, however, our reason is far nobler—we should be teaching prevention rather trying to create white knights to save the day. It is the same philosophy as building a fence at the cliff's edge rather than an emergency room at its base. Our language is replete with idioms telling us to look past the symptom and address problems at their root cause. 'An ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure' or 'a stitch in time saves nine.' Please, feel free to supply your own in the comments. Unfortunately, most of our businesses loathe this philosophy, waiting to address an issue until it is irrefutably broken.

  • The Executive-Project Manager Gap

    It was such an innocuous question, "Working on an article; what is the biggest problem you see with project governance at orgs? Can you comment?" Can I comment? Really? That is like cheese to a mouse. Where could I start—bureaucracy, draconian process, poor executive sponsorship, disengaged leaders? Plenty of fodder, because they all lead to project failure. I fired off, "Creating an over bureaucratic morass stifling innovation & implementing process instead of cultivating leaders." Then the maelstrom started and it went directly to the gap between the executives and projects managers. Naomi Caietti, Robert Kelly and I had a great conversation. Most of the thread is below.

  • Disband Your PMO

    After nearly 30 years of project work, I struggle to understand the role of a project management office (PMO). Even though, I have written of the pros and cons, and read a plethora of articles, opinions, and how-to guides little has been done to convince me that the PMO is reducing project failure. It seems to be nothing more than a tool to fill a void in leadership? Even the acronym, which is so widely thrown around, has little meaning as the "P" has no less than four meanings. It is an executive's crutch for their lack of understanding in how projects work. These, like other, unattended holes in the corporate accountability create opportunities for new and greater bureaucracies and empires that further obfuscate accountability.

Leave a comment

More Info on Project Recovery

Tell me More!

Please send me more information
on fixing a failing project.

Rescue The Problem Project

Internationally acclaimed

Image of RPP

For a signed and personalized copy in the US visit the our eCommerce website.

Amazon logo
Buy it in the United States Buy it in Canada Buy it in the United Kingdom
Buy it in Ireland Buy it in Germany Buy it in France
Buy it in Italy Buy it in the PRC
Buy it in Japan
Book sellers worldwide.

Upcoming Events

Other's References