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.