Sunday, 04 April 2010 00:00

Only A Culture of Change Will Fix Projects

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From years of experience in recovering red projects, I estimate that only a third of all problems that affect red projects are actually on the project; the other two-thirds are in the surrounding organizations. Poor policies and procedures or lack of commitment by the customer, vendor, integrator, or organization overshadows problems on the project. Unfortunately, project managers do not have the authority, or even the influence, to address these issues. Their only course of action to complete the project successfully is to band-aid the problem. This must change if companies are going to quickly and accurately implement business initiatives.

Companies Cannot Accept Status Quo

Change is crucial. Only companies with an exceptional change management culture are going to be breakaway organizations that will be leaders in the future. Management needs to listen to project managers and instantiate changes to remove roadblocks for current and future projects. The effort and cost, of course, cannot be saddled on the project; this is an organization-wide change that happens as a parallel effort.

These corrective actions must be defined and implemented in a collaborative environment. Walls between organizations must to be removed so groups work freely and are empowered to be critical of people, processes and policies that are poisoning productivity. When a problem is identified, the corporate culture must be one where everyone joins forces to correct it. Territorial pride must give way to a company-wide team mentality to improve efficiency and remove waste.

In a recent survey undertaking by IBM to determine the differences in companies that jumped out as leaders, they questioned nearly 400 companies on various aspects of their business. The results indicated that being able to drive change was over sixty percent of their reason for a business' ability to jump ahead of its competition. IBM determined that three leadership traits were common among organizations that bolted out in front of their competition—they must be challenging, anticipating, and empowering. Leaders need to build an environment that challenges the norm and is innovative. They need to use business results to anticipate how to optimize their operations and they must empower employees to make the decisions that will drive change. This attitude is exactly what is needed to push project success rates up.

The Proper Solution

A typical scenario on a failing project is that the project team is missing essential skills. This problem is usually rooted in a policy of using internal resources over more expensive external ones. The policy is developed to keep internal resources billable. However, the cost of having people with the wrong skill set working on a project is far greater than having a competent contractor do the work. The solution is to have a policy to:

  • Train existing or hire new people with expertise in tools essential for the company success well in advance of needing them.
  • Hire temporary labor to meet short-term requirements.
  • Replace people that are unwilling or unable to learn skills matching the company's requirements.

This type of policy is difficult to implement in most companies. However, this, and follow-on projects, cannot continue to suffer the burden of poor processes and repeated attempts by project to band-aid them. The policy, and the other policies relating to it, must be changed in order for projects to succeed.

The Mechanics Are of Lesser Importance

The aforementioned survey also ranked the importance of activities as they related to a company's success in driving change. They were:

  • Culture and people change management
  • Data governance
  • Business process change

Fourth and fifth in importance, and considered mechanics rather than drivers, were program governance and project objectives. Clearly, companies leading the pack are far more concerned about accommodating change than the intricacies of a given process.

The Next Steps

So how do we start? At the top, of course. Senior level managers, from the CEO down, must warmly embracing change and develop their teams to do the same, working cooperatively between various organizations to optimize operations. No longer can they be the sole decisions maker, they must empower their employees to make decisions so the company can respond quickly to changing business environments. Without this, project statistics have little chance of improving.

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