Sunday, 20 March 2011 00:00

Project Failures are Organization Failures

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Honesty, Vision, and Transparency

Vision, honesty, and transparency: three key traits of an organization that can guarantee project success. This was summed up in last week's interview with Tom Cox, the host of Blog Talk Radio's Tom on Leadership program. His audience, primarily from the C-Suite, is keen to understand how troubled projects are a reflection of their organization's overall health. Projects are, after all, the proverbial canaries in our organization's coalmine. Projects stop performing because there is trouble in the organization.

Honesty's Virtue

Honesty is at the core of any healthy organization's culture. Without honesty, all is lost. It must permeate the company from the board to the individual contributor. Project teams in healthy, honest organizations, report status accurately. Unpleasant news brings offers of assistance as opposed to criticism.

Honesty requires trust. Trust, however, cannot be blind. Every organization has a representative slice of humanity; unfortunately, this includes people who may not hold honesty as a virtue. Furthermore, there are times when our teams simply do have the insight to know they are getting into trouble. For these reasons, every trustful manager has to verify intentions quietly and discreetly. This is not a sign of mistrust; it is a prudent measure to ensure the organization as a whole is functioning properly.

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Strategy, alignment, communication of goals is not easy. Our Vision To Value white paper talks about focusing your team on the key strategic corporate goals and ensuring everyone in your organization knows the direction.

Vision's Guidance

Without identifying a goal, the team is directionless. Failure to develop and communicate a vision is a primary responsibility of management. It must maintain a clear vision and clarify any adjustments to meet changes in the business climate. Most executives in companies with an inadequate vision are in denial that the condition exists. Their organizations are steeped in mistrust and dishonesty. It starts at the top, where management denies there is an unclear direction and manifests in an apathetic team unwilling to take the political risk of highlighting management's error.

Projects languish in the indecision. Without knowing the proper direction, no one can make critical decisions, and projects stall.

Transparency's Test

Transparency comes part and parcel with an honest organization. One of the key features of an honest organization is that they are transparent. An honest organization has nothing to hide. However, honesty does not guarantee transparency. Within any organization, denial and ego can create pockets of problems that management must diligently discover.

In trusting, honest organizations, it is often difficult to find these enclaves of opacity. They produce just enough data to maintain a façade of openness. Even in non-covert situations, transparency takes confidence and constant communication. The best of intentions to complete a set of difficult tasks can create an environment where groups, focused on their goals, forget to ask for help. It creeps over them slowly like an evening fog, enveloping the workday, eliminating the ability to stand back and assess the state of affairs.

Transparency needs management's help. Management must be involved with their people—mingling, asking questions, looking for stress, and proactively proposing solutions.

The Canary's Song

Just like a canary, projects in a poisoned organization go silent. There is little realism in their reports and management must ferret out the problems. If the organization is unhealthy, it takes an outside party to untangle the mess. Someone must call attention to honesty's absence, abused trust, and unclear visions. They need to look inside the opaque box and point to the political problems hindering a transparent operation.

My 11-month-old granddaughter often reminds me of one of the basic techniques for managing multiple projects. As she plays, she makes her normal cacophony of clangs, thunks, and bumps. To a degree, I am as numb to those sounds as we all are to office's white noise. However, the instant those noises stop, concern increases. I know she is likely to be headed for trouble. The same is true in project management. The minute the project goes quiet or the troubles seem to disappear, it is time to start asking questions. The team is probably in trouble and unwilling or unable to recognize the issues.

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