2008 research conducted by McKinsey and Company found that 1 in 3 change programs in organizations will meet the benefits intended for them. That stat has been consistent over the last decade. They then go on to explain why they believe that occurs, and to be truthful I found the explanation full of fluff. Here is my take from having lived the discussions with leadership teams first hand. As badly as you would like to believe otherwise, almost 70% of projects fail because:
- Leadership teams are not prioritizing effectively, and
- Change management is severely lacking from your organization’s capability to prioritize and manage projects
I have not come across one team in the last 5 years that hasn’t been heavily entrenched in discussions about effective prioritization, project management and change management. The issue is admittedly making me a bit crazy. Everyone has a different perspective, and more times than not, teams are speaking a different language. Most who talk about it are coming from a place of misinformation (which, I admit, makes me even crazier).
The Real Problem
People are making up their own definitions and processes, and as a result they’re stirring up conflict and creating missed expectations. They are doing this because they don’t know where to look to find the right way to do things.
Here is the place where we clear things up… I’ve done the looking for you, and I’m laying it out as simply as I can. The truth is, the problem is simpler than you think.
First we’ll define each one, then we’ll clear up how and why they inter-relate so you can make more of your precious resources moving forward.
Step 1… Define:
- Prioritization is the act of weighting the objectives and rank ordering the activities of an organization in terms of importance, and must be done at a regular frequency. As badly as you would like to believe otherwise, there is no universal right answer on what is important and what the right frequency is. The answer is determined by consensus of the Leadership Team to arrive at the unique “right” answer for their organization.
- Project Management is the process of getting a project done according to a well delineated plan that includes project objectives, timelines, milestones, budget, benefits to be realized, etc. Project Management is tactical, and is often focused on bureaucratically managing to a plan and budget so that everyone stays on track. The bureaucratic discipline of Project Management is necessary and effective, because it keeps people honest and disciplined about getting things done, while it creates transparency of how well a project performs against initial expectations. As badly as you would like to believe otherwise, project management is not change management… it is only a piece of change management.
- Change Management is the art of managing human and organizational dynamics in BOTH prioritization and project management. It is not to be confused with what some Project Managers call “change management”, that is, how scope changes are introduced and executed on specific projects. (Personally I would prefer if Project Managers would call that “Scope Management” or “Change Control” so we could stop confusing organizational managers about the type of “change” we are talking about).
The Change Management I’m talking about involves effective communication and appropriate facilitation of decision-making by the appropriate parties at the appropriate times, in ways that address:
- Multiple types of resistance to change
- Ensuring all stakeholders are clear about their role in affecting change and that they are playing that role appropriately
- Understanding the impacts to results and people when priorities change
In today’s business, change management requires a sophisticated understanding of change processes, human behaviour, facilitator neutrality and effective facilitation.
As badly as you would like to believe otherwise, most organizations, including yours, suffer from a lack of skill in effective change management below the leadership team, and often among people on the leadership team.
Step 2… Clarify:
The three are not independent processes. Effective prioritization ensures the right projects are being implemented and managed. Effective project management ensures discipline of getting the project done. And effective change management ensures organizational and human dynamics are managed so that priorities are aligned in such a way that reduces conflict and inefficiency and so that projects can be executed more effectively.
There are three issues most organizations face in implementing these processes effectively:
- Leadership teams do not have an effective process for prioritizing organizational initiatives and projects
- Leadership teams are intimidated by the apparent complexity of implementing prioritization processes or by the transparency it might create in surfacing conflict or poor performance
- Leaders and PMOs are not currently qualified to fulfill the change management needs of most organizations, and Project Management courses are not long enough to teach change management properly. Change management takes years of apprenticeship and experience that Project Management courses are not positioned to satisfy.
So What's Next?As badly as you would like to believe otherwise, it is not that hard to change the stats. There are two things you can do right away:
#1: Read up on the Portfolio approach to Project Prioritization and Management. It is not as complex as you’d think, and it would serve as a good way to clarify priorities for each member of your leadership team so that everyone understands their place.
Have a facilitator skilled in business planning and management processes assist you in designing a methodology that will be absorbable and utilized in your organization. An effective facilitator will ensure you have a prioritization process that involves:
- Executive decision-making on primary outputs for the year (and/or long term), in the form of metrics and results (which may include financial objectives, people objectives, risk objectives, etc.)
- Cataloguing the universe of initiatives and projects to be prioritized, and their costs and benefits as related to the organizational objectives.
- Reaching consensus on the order of priority of initiatives and projects, using the criteria of Impact to Objectives, Resources Available (capacity and capital), Executive Judgement and the Leader’s Agenda.
- Understanding the nuances and dynamics of interdependent teams with conflicting objectives. This most often involves making trade-offs and essentially “playing favourites” between departments and stakeholders. No leader should be afraid to face this, or you risk confusing and disenfranchising people unnecessarily. Transparency and clarity of expectations is best in these situations. Facilitation can help.
- Ongoing monitoring of Project Portfolio Health, and re-prioritization of initiatives as the nuances and intricacies of the business change month over month.
# 2: Put leaders (not Project Managers) with proven track records in change implementation in charge of your PMO. This will create a direct influence on Project Managers to stretch beyond what was taught to them in their PM certification courses, so they can become more effective facilitators of change. The key is to teach them about the human and organizational dynamics that take place, and the most effective ways to facilitate decision-making when project plans are going awry.
Effective management requires leadership to ensure the organization is working on the right things at the right times. Use prioritization, project management and change management effectively to increase the success rate of projects in your organization. As badly as you’d like to believe otherwise, it isn’t as hard as you think.