Bringing change to the organization for successful projects

Posted on: November 23rd, 2015 by Jim


As a consultant advising customers on new process, I am automatically an agent of change. Especially so since at least some of the companies who contact me face varying levels of dysfunctionality. They either have no idea how to do projects or they know how to do them but don’t have the right people. Or else, they have both of those factors in place but project management is not fully supported by the organization. And so as often as not, an engagement can go something like this:

Customer: Our projects are failing at too high a rate and we need to do something about it
JPS: Unless you already know the reasons why, we’ll have to dig deep and find the cause
Customer: Yes, well I believe it’s because we don’t have well-trained project managers. Or not enough of them anyway. And we don’t have adequate processes in place to make sure we’re all performing more or less the same way
JPS: By processes you mean for example, a stage gate process wherein projects can be stopped if there’s no perceived reason for their continued existence? Or change control to help prevent scope creep?
Customer: Yes, for a start.

And so we go on like this, figuring out what the customer needs and where we can begin. We analyze, interview, prioritize, etc. The customer starts getting excited about the possibility that maybe – just for once – the right things will get “done around here.”

I make my recommendations (training, introduction of new processes, having sponsorship, etc.) and then…. nothing. Well, I shouldn’t say nothing but certainly not on the scale that would matter. Why? Well, after many years of seeing this behavior I’ve found that many organizations want to do things differently so long as they don’t have to change. Let that statement sink in for a minute.

Oh, they don’t come out and say that. They may not even fully realize it. But what many of them want is not change per se but well, maybe some other way of accomplishing the goal. Maybe if we shift a few people around, or meet more frequently or get everybody certified. (Getting everyone certified feels good but does not get to the root cause of the problem). Or now maybe they re-think and it and, gee, maybe all this… this – process!.. is worse than the actual problem. Which is patent nonsense. Corporations are like people in this sense: To grow you have to stop doing what is no longer working for you and do something else.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying, nor do I ever, that the organization must go from Level 1 project maturity (ad hoc) to Level 5 (repeatable processes) overnight. I’m not even telling them they must go to Level 5. Level 3 is often sufficient. So I try to introduce change slowly at a level that the organization can absorb. And sometimes this works quite well. But just as often these organizations cannot do it and the commitment to change is not internalized at the highest levels of the organization.

So I think that if anyone from senior management – or anyone who says “we need to do things better around here” reads this – then before they launch some major overhaul of the organization they should ask themselves (at least) the following question:

-Is this organization open to change or is it stuck in the old ways? If the former, then engage. If the latter, then you either need to find out what’s causing that. Or forget the initiative. Because bringing someone in to an organization such as that with no real will to make things better will only make you more frustrated than you currently are.

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