Blog: Fixing Problem and High-Risk Projects

A few weeks ago, I set out to write a post on the comparison of various organizational change management (OCM) methodologies and realized that would be a disservice to my readers. It would simply drag you down the path of implementation while failing to focus you on building the foundation. The pressure was too much and I have relented to numerous requests on making that comparison. The caveat is that juxtaposing these models is not comparing different varieties of oranges or even apples and oranges; we are surely comparing the peel to the fruit they contain. Hence, comparing methodologies like Kotter's model (the peel), Prosci's ADKAR (the core), and General Electric's Change Acceleration Process (the whole fruit) need a different approach.

"Kotter, ADKAR, or CAP which methodology should we be using to build our approach to improving project adoption?" I hear this question repeatedly from people trying to implement an organizational change management (OCM) program. The problem is that is the wrong question. Take a perfunctory peek at any of the models and you will see that in the quest for an answer people have mistakenly jumped over the first few steps and they head down the road of failure. It is a Catch-22; unless you already have an OCM process in place, you will most likely fail at implementing it. Putting one in place, however, is a change—one of the most difficult cultural transformations your company will undertake. As a result, people jump to the solution stage, which is well down the change management process path (which, they did not know, ironically, since there was no procedure in place).

Image on ethics

Are there any ethics in business today? Time and again, headlines proclaim where companies and leaders have gone astray. You cannot help but wonder what our fellow humans will do next. Men and women in search of money, power, fame, or all three, decide they are exempt from the rules and social norms the rest of us struggle to follow. It boggles the mind. Unethical, however, is just a waypoint in the spectrum from truth to criminal. Face it, we are all liars. It may be telling our children about Santa Claus, portraying our speed to the policeman, covering up a politician's extramarital affair, or promising fortunes through investments in Ponzi products. Deceit is everywhere.

Image of Assuming Positive Intent

The west coast of the United States is where I call home. Many refer to us as "left coaster" because... well... that is how it looks on a map and many of us are politically a little further to the left than others. Around here, common thought is that everyone should be open-minded. A sentiment that I proudly subscribe to as I lack most prejudices. You can imagine my shock when I found out that my unbiased presumptions are not only undesirable, but also undeniably wrong.

There I was, in a posh Montreal hotel conference room, two customers on one side of the table, and my client and me on the other. Taped to the back of my laptop lid was a conference-center supplied piece of paper with a hastily scrawled note on it. The entire message consisted of only two letters followed an exclamation mark. The letters were "N" and "O." They sent a succinct message that was hard to ignore as the customer incessantly strove to get a little more functionality brought into the failing project's scope. For every request, I would drop my chin slightly, look over the top of my glasses, tap my right index finger on the top of my laptop, and they would relent. Instead of being a pessimistic curmudgeon, I was bringing realism about the budget and timeline and doing what leaders do—making hard decisions.

I have written about, spoke on, and lobbied against blame. Regardless, it just seems like a bottomless pit of contention, conversation, and criticism. People fail to see how to correct a crisis without hastily pointing fingers at failure's first sight. Yet, in the next breath they claim accusations serve no purpose as they attempt to sidestep the fate of blame's gauntlet. We can talk about how we should solve the issues rather than going on the proverbial witch-hunt to find the individual, group, or organization who we think should be burned at the stake and wear the corporate tattoo of failure. Why do we need this and what does it achieve?

Dilbert cartoon

Few would question that executives are responsible for ensuring projects are aligned with the corporate strategy. They also need to ensure these initiatives remain in line with these goals as business conditions change. To achieve this, they have to be engaged with the project when it starts and maintain that context throughout its life cycle. This requires more than ensuring the project maintains its scope, schedule, and budget; projects must deliver value. Too many projects start with the inspirational support of upper management, but as the project (or company) drifts, the executives have long since disengaged from the project and are unable to straighten out the misalignment. This wastes company resources and hinders the company's ability to deliver.

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.

Return to sender

A couple weeks ago, I was in eating my pre-keynote dinner with a group of people that I had never met. Without being prompted by some general drift in the conversation, a person across that table said, to no one in particular, "Did you hear about the new app to do confessional?" Being unfamiliar with the group, how was I to know if I was sitting with a group of high-tech Catholics that would think this was great. Besides trying to determine how to react, I was trying to envision how confessing with an iPod would have the same effect as sitting down with a priest. Of course, who am I, a fringe protestant, to make any editorial comment about Catholicism's inner workings? However, I finally blurted out, "What happened to accountability?"

It happens hundreds of times a day around the world, the CIO calls an urgent IT Management Committee meeting. She has heard that one of the projects in the portfolio, a seemingly simple project doing a routine upgrade, is projecting a 20 percent cost overrun and will be three months late. How can a project go that far off track since the last week's executive team meeting? Managers scramble to get their stories straight, determine who to blame, form opinions and alibis, and pummel the project manager for failing to manage the project correctly, even though he has been saying the project is in trouble for months. The project has drifted from its initial intent and now the ultimate goal is to find someone to blame.

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