Friday, 21 October 2011

Including change agents into project teams

A very popular subject right now is how to integrate change managers into project teams. This is driven by the growing importance of managing the implementation and transition to new ways of working as a result of the project. Unlike a project team where there is broad agreement on the roles and responsibilities, organisations are still deciding what roles are associated with managing change. The names, position in the organisation and what they are expected to be responsible for is different in every situation, influenced by:
·         organisational culture,
·         the type of change – usually divided between technical changes to procedures or systems and behavioural changes i.e. how people approach their work
·         the professionalism of the project and programme management environment
·         the perceived strategic importance of the changes being planned by the organisation
Before deciding on what change roles should be included in the project team I use my knowledge of organisational change to identify the most important change roles as the basis of mapping these responsibilities into project and programme teams. For example:

·         Change Sponsor - Has the authority to make the change happen, has control of resources and has a clear vision of what the change needs to be
·         Local level sponsor – responsible for change in their division or section of the organisation
·         Change agent – facilitates the change by acting as a bridge between the Sponsor and the implementer. Helps to plan the change, liaises with the project teams to ensure deliverables are ready for use by the Implementers, motivates and persuades Implementers to become involved in the change by identifying and encouraging Advocates
·         Advocates – enthusiastic about the change and highly motivated to make the change happen
·         Implementer – makes changes to their ways of working that makes the desired change a reality

Monday, 17 October 2011

Blackberry failures teach us how to manage project sponsors

The crisis at Research In Motion (RIM) reminded me how important it is to fully involve the sponsor when projects are going wrong. I speak from some experience about what the teams are going through at the data centre in Slough as in a different life I was global head of crisis management for a large bank (definition of crisis: anything which made the senior management team shout!)

One of the most important lessons I learnt was that to manage the crisis you (in your role as project or programme manager or head of the PMO) have to create enough space between the sponsors and executives and those with the technical skills who can fix the problem.

When things go wrong the executives are the people who are ultimately going to have to take responsibility for the failure (and possibly issue the apologies to affected customers) want to know what's going on, how long the fix is going to take, how it went wrong in the first place and they want answers to all these questions at a time when the specialists are still defining the problem and identifying possible solutions.

Senior managers find it very hard to act as by standers, twiddling their thumbs waiting for information which is why they keep jumping in demanding answers. My technique relied on distraction - give the sponsors and senior executives something to work on over there so that the specialists can fix the problem over here. Senior managers do have skills and experience that can be used effectively in a crisis. Define your desired communications and get them out there delivering your message. It keeps them busy and it adds value as they can manage the repetitional risk aspects better than anyone and gives you the time to manage and support your team when they need it most.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Coaching for Project Managers

I have carried out several coaching sessions this week for project managers who are under pressure to deliver against very tight deadlines. Although they feel they have so little time they have decided that it is worth spending an hour with me to review their project and to decide on next steps, which has made me think about the benefits of hearing the views of an independent, objective observer.
1.       Someone with no specialist knowledge about your project can be very useful in assessing whether or not the objectives, scope and intended deliverables of the project described in the project brief are as obvious as the project manager believes them to be:
a.       When I am given a project brief to read I invariably have questions about what I think the project is going to deliver which surprise the project manager because they  think they have been so clear. This week I was reviewing a project which changes the way customers submit applications to a licensing body. By not knowing any of the detail I asked very basic questions which identified that the project had failed to include any acknowledgements back to the customers or any updates about the progress of their applications
b.      A lack of specialist knowledge makes it easy to spot risks because I don’t have the technical expertise to make me believe things won’t go wrong and there is no voice in my head telling me ‘that would never happen’
c.       Because I am not caught up in the enthusiasm for the project that helped get it off the ground in the first place its easy for me to ask ‘why are we doing this’ and be honest about whether I think the benefits are strong enough. I always ask two things: Would I spend my own money on this? Would I allow my staff to spend time working on this? No to either of these tells me that the benefits need to be strengthened. That means asking questions about whether this is a ‘vanity project’ i.e. its being done because its subject is important to someone with enough authority to authorise the work or whether the project is solving a problem that doesn’t really need a solution, because the problem is not that important or does not affect enough people.
2.       An experienced project manager who is not responsible for your project can provide a useful quality check for your project plan:
·         Identifying tasks that you may have forgotten but that they know are essential enablers to getting other things done. I looked at a project that is reworking how an organisation calculates pricing information for its sales team. The plan assumed that pricing information was pre-checked by the finance department, but there were no tasks involving the finance department in the plan – so it appeared on paper as if the pricing information magically appeared!
·         Questioning whether all the interdependencies have been captured. I know that asking my project managers simple questions about the inputs to a particular task quickly identifies that the activity to create those inputs has been left off the plan.
It is not always possible to recruit a project assurance resource or hire an external consultant to provide this objective viewpoint, but its worth considering if other project managers in your organisation could act as the critical friend for your project if you return the favour.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Trends in project management 2011

I gave a free briefing on the future of project management today that identified key trends for the project management profession:

Portfolio Management

Portfolio management techniques are being used by senior management to create an organisation wide summary of all the projects and programmes that are taking place, usually with the intention of removing a larger number as part of their cost cutting or efficiency initiatives.

This means that senior managers are starting to define criteria against which they will evaluate projects before deciding if they offer sufficient value to be authorised. I think this creates an additional pressure for project managers because we now need to ensure that not only are the benefits of our project greater than the costs but we also need to ensure that they are strategically important benefits.

In the briefing we a agreed that project managers need to get in the habit of describing how their projects contribute to strategic objectives because it is the achievement of these objectives that senior management are evaluated against, and they have a strong interest in keeping their jobs!

Benefits Realisation

We recognised that benefits realisation has become a widely recognised term and that senior managers are more likely to talk about achieving the benefits than worry about what is actually being delivered.

We discussed how important it is for project managers who are delivery focused (deliver on time, on budget and to the required standard of quality) to understand how benefits can only be realised if there is successful implementation of what has been delivered.

Change Management

We examined this model to see how knowledge of change management techniques is becoming increasingly important for those working in project management:

Aligning project management and change management is a hot topic. At the conference for the Association of Change Management Professionals in Copenhagen last week there were a high number of project managers in attendance, wanting to know how they could improve their project approach to include more motivation and persuasion activities to encourage operational staff to use the new systems and procedures that they have created.

Do you agree with the conclusions of those attending my briefing? Are you involved in realising benefits or portfolio management? Get in touch and let us know your thoughts.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

New book launch

Very exciting - my new book Managing Business Transformation: A Practical Guide has just been launched.
Buying this book gives you access to a ready made business change lifecycle, describing lots of change activities to move you from initial idea to successful implementation.

The change lifecycle has 4 steps:
- Understanding the change
- Planning the change
- Implementing the change
- Embedding the change

There is also a chapter on how to align the change lifecycle with a project lifecycle as I wanted to acknowledge that projects deliver change (new processes or systems etc) but that they don't usually go as far as ensuring that everyone has integrated these deliverables into how they work and therefore realised the benefits of the project.

I wrote the book because I wanted one source that would give me a change management equivalent of the project management books that explain what to do and how to do it. To buy the book go to

I have had lots of positive feedback about the book, with a number of people saying they are already using some of the ideas. Jessica Wharton, APMG-International comments, “Managing Business Transformation is an easy and enjoyable read. I would happily recommend this to both experienced managers and those just starting out. As Melanie points out, even if you don’t deal directly with business transformation, knowledge on how to successfully handle it is priceless in any managerial role.” For her full review go to

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Aligning project and change management practices

Have just spent 2 days with 150 project managers and change managers at the Association of Change Management Practitioners European Conference. Key topic has been the integration of change management into project management.

Although effective project managers accept that making sure what they deliver is successfully implemented is within the scope of the project lifecycle a lot of project management frameworks don’t have any formal activities or processes for encouraging this. There are also practical considerations which push change outside of the remit of the project managers:
• It is not cost effective for project teams to remain in place once development and testing of the deliverables has been completed.
• Change activities can benefit from the knowledge of the project team, but individuals cannot outsource implementation and embedding, they have to make the changes for themselves.
• Projects are expected to deliver on time, on budget and to specific quality criteria, but the pace and scope of changes that individuals adopt cannot be constrained in this way.
• The objectives of project and change activities are different. Project activities deliver the potential for change: the new processes, systems, organisation structure etc.; change activities create the persuasion, motivation and leading by example that results in the new business environment.

Organisations are now starting to address these issues and some of the actions organisations are taking include:
Renaming all project managers to change managers – as the name reinforces their responsibilities for implementation
Establishing the role of change manager and making sure that there is a change manager for every project
Defining what the change activities are and making sure the cost of them is included in the business case for the project
Building a central ‘business support function’ that is staffed by project managers and change managers who work together on projects
Changing the remit of the PMO to become a centre of excellence for project delivery and the implementation of change

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Back to work and under pressure

There is a real ‘back to work/rushed off our feet’ buzz at Maven this week so we are trying to work smarter to fit everything in. One technique is to move as much as possible into ‘housekeeping mode’ i.e. turn tasks into regular actions that are carried out in the same way every time. The reason for this is that I want to reduce the time we take to do simple tasks so that we free up more time to be creative – to dream up new products and services, to spend more time with our clients and to look towards the future.

This approach is backed up by psychological research which explains that once we have learnt how to perform a task, our brains need less conscious thought (short term memory, which has limited capacity) to carry it out, and if we do it enough times it will move the task into our subconscious (long term memory, with lots of spare capacity).

This means that our conscious mind can spend time on more worthwhile tasks such as paying attention to what we are doing, focusing on a task, having new thoughts that lead to new ideas, learning new skills and being more innovative about how we approach things.

Although projects are all about doing new things and therefore, using lots of our conscious mind, we can make project management easier by transferring as many project tasks as possible into regular activities carried out by our subconscious. For example, logging, analysing and reporting on risks, issues and change requests, producing progress reports, sending out information to stakeholders.

By carrying out these basic tasks regularly we free up more time to spend identifying new ways of working that overcome the risks, or incorporate the requests for change. We can spend more time engaging with stakeholders, addressing their concerns and helping them to champion the project.

I believe that the methodologies offered by the Office of Government Commerce (PRINCE2; MSP; MoR; MoP; ITIL) are so effective because at their core they try to regularize as many project, programme and portfolio tasks as possible.

The methodologies set out what documents to use, in what order tasks should be carried out and which roles should perform them. This leaves managers with plenty of capacity to fully engage with their projects and programmes, managing them actively, rather than having to use their conscious brain to decide how to do basic tasks when they should be working at a higher level of creativity.

Get to know these methodologies ( to simplify your management tasks and give you the freedom to be innovative about how you tackle more challenging activities.