New Study on Organization Change Management Failure

[The study delivers] a tough, but needed, message. HR leaders get thrown under the bus for these projects too often, which leads them to reach for visible, but ineffective, change implementation tactics.

To that end, I really like the point about realism re: expectations. Many change initiatives are heavy on marketing-style communications, which are easy to produce and point to as a tangible work product. But they’re often only one-way messages about how great the Brave New World will be. A multi-layered stakeholder management approach is a lot tougher, requires sustained effort over time, and has less-tangible payback.

Ultimately, function and process leaders need to own the change initiatives for their areas, which is why CEO ownership and involvement — again, sustained over time — is so critical. Line managers and staff won’t respond if it’s just a speech, new PowerPoint templates, and a monthly newsletter. They will wait until the change project is noticed, measured, and rewarded by the leadership team.

Adapted from my comment on a LinkedIn post re: this Forbes article from Victor Lipman: “New Study Explores Why Change Management Fails – And How To (Perhaps) Succeed“.

More on why projects fail

This post on top reasons for IT project failure by Ron Sheldrick has up on LinkedIn for a while. Here were my two cents, nothing new if you’ve followed for a while:

@James Pastor [a fellow commenter] hit on the scope issue early on in this thread. Back in my SAP days we found that poor knowledge of the contract and SOW — especially among the project team and contractors — was a common thread among troubled projects. The strategic assumptions that underpinned the initiative were lost as the project devolved into satifying immediate, tactical needs…which deviated from the original plan.

We also found that stakeholder and communications went begging. While these stakeholder and communications management techniques are simple in form, we found that many project managers can’t muster the motivation or confidence to execute against them consistently. These “symptoms” are great non-obvious indicators for project health:

  • Projects that consistently linked stakeholder analysis, communications planning, and plan execution stayed out of trouble.
  • Project managers who did not fit into, or could not adapt to, customer cultures, mission-critical projects, etc. were reluctant to escalate projects quickly enough.
  • The most frequent communications mistake was failure to execute planned executive-level messaging, which eroded the project manager’s position in the eyes of sponsors and other leaders.

These stakeholder management findings correspond with recent external studies noting that communication breakdowns – especially “keeping quiet” about known risks or issues – are a primary driver of project failures.

Own your project’s story (HT @MelanieDuzyj and @mkrigsman)

We all should know how critical project communication is to project success.   A compelling story can build strong sponsorship and sustain stakeholder commitment, even in the most challenging of circumstances (also see Michael Krigsman’s project success checklist) .  However, many project managers assume that their audiences — or even worse, key influencers and “re-communicators” — understand the story as well as they do.

The group blog at BlissPR has a useful post by Julie Johnson on “Getting the Details Right“.  I’ve often suggested that project managers leverage what their PR professionals more.  IMO, the ability to influence is an essential behavior for an initiative leader.  Why not listen and learn from people who know?

In this case, the lessons for driving accurate press coverage apply well to any project that needs to own and drive its story.  Simply substitute “project” for “company” or “industry”, and “stakeholders” for “media”. 

  • It’s more important than ever for a company to take control of its reputation – after all, you either control your reputation or someone else will
  • Educating media about a company or an industry can be even more important than garnering coverage
  • The story you tell must be simple – especially when the truth is complicated

More on bridging the PM/Executive communications gap

I hope I didn’t scare you off the latest PM Network (September 2009) with my recent lament about a column (my lament is here).  The piece assumed that we still needed to convince PMs that they had to be business savvy. 

In fact, this issue is chock full of articles that assume PMs get that and want to get savvier.  One piece — Talking the Talk — hits on a number of recent Crossderry themes.  It echoes an earlier post about bridging the PM/Management Gap (here), but it speaks to the executive who wants to improve his/her communications with project managers.  The opening grafs hit the main challenge:

To the executive ear, project managers seem to be speaking an entirely different language.  “A lot of executives think project management is all Gantt charts and paperwork, so they tune those conversations out,” says Eric Morfin, partner, Critical Skills Inc., San Diego, California, USA 

My suggestion: take this article and use it to shape your exchanges with executives.  If you have a executive mentor,  “how to leverage these ideas” would make a great subject for your next chat.

Troubled Projects and Engaging Change Stakeholders

Glen at Herding Cats (here) points to a Center of Business Practices study (here) on the causes of troubled projects.  I’ve posted on some of our own findings about project success (here and here), but I haven’t elaborated on what we’ve found about the composition of change control boards.  Below is an extract from a comment I made on Glen’s post:

Our project debrief analyses have consistently found that the right level of executive presence on change control boards is essential to ensure change is managed, not simply documented. In fact, the lack of such a presence (or regular absences) marks the project as a potential escalation.

When a senior manager vets the prioritization of changes by focusing the project team on the project’s goals and intended outcomes — one should usually find scope, time, and resource changes easier to manage (with fewer, more salient change orders). It also keeps the business invested in the project. Many IT shops resist this measure, but it works wonders once they “get it”. 

Corner Cutting Survey Top Answer: Not communicating with senior management

Executive body language after cancelling too many meetings

The corner cutting poll’s top answer (at 22 percent) remains Executing planned communications with senior management.  This answer matches our own experience within SAP, which indicates that proper stakeholder management decreases the probability of risk events, shortens their duration, and lessens their total impact. 

In our experience, the most frequent communications mistake was failure to execute planned executive-level messaging, which eroded the project manager’s position in the eyes of sponsors and other leaders.  Such an erosion of a project manager’s position leads to negative second-order effects, including:

  • Mistrust of the PM’s ability to lead and prioritize.
  • Senior management bypassing the PM in favor of direct communication with team leads and vice versa.
  • Exclusion from decision-making bodies or meetings.

Executive Support: Demonstrating the Value of PM

Executive buy-in and support: more comments on the first results of the PMI Value of PM study, earlier posts (here , here, here, here, and here).

Value measures should first focus on the tangible (e.g., ROI, better margin) or making the intangible more tangible (e.g., tying customer satisfaction to revenue or reduced escalation costs).  In addition, I would also suggest that one should also look at how much value one’s executives attribute to project management.  Of course, the initiative has to have delivered results.  But many PMOs forget to ensure that senior leadership understands exactly how PM improvement translates to the firm’s bottom-line, top-line, brand value, etc.

One of the most powerful endorsements of SAP’s project management efforts came from the current CEO of SAP America, Greg Tomb.  During our global services leadership summit, each regional leader presents a short presentation on the “whats and whys” of his/her unit’s performance.  When Greg was discussing the excellent revenue, margin, and customer satisfaction results in the Americas, he explicitly credited project management as the foundation for all three.

“Public” and vocal executive references are some of the best intangible value proof points.  Not only was the recognition appreciated by the Americas PMO leadership, it also reinforced the global PMO message to the rest of the global leadership team: project management works.

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