The Road From Here To There

13 June

It really doesn’t matter which clients I’m talking to they are all discussing the challenge of the journey to transformation; moving from where they are today to where they want to be in the future. From my perspective superior project management skills are needed to get you from here to there.

Information Week recently did a survey asking executives their greatest challenge in their transformation efforts and 51% of the respondents indicated time management given competing work priorities was their greatest challenge.  Often the problem is that insufficient time is allocated to correctly scope a project. Sponsors have very high expectations but do not spend time really understanding what a team has to do. On the other hand team members have other jobs to do and can’t commit the time expected of them to a project. Project managers are adept at helping organizations structure the stages of change initiatives by establishing expectations for when things can get done and identifying the critical items on the path to getting something accomplished and the constraints that are in the way.

Implementing change requires new behaviors. Project managers know leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do it and can assist organizations with transformation efforts while transforming the process of transformation.

The project world is round

Get rid of the old command and control thinking and throw the hierarchy out the window. Transformation requires moving people out of their organizational boxes into a flexible and fluid project management work system. Team members can not be put into little squares on an org chart and only be called upon for their expertise at certain points in the project. Effective project managers build an atmosphere of inclusion obtaining input from all team members at all levels to create ownership and buy in for project activities.

Think of the project environment org chart as a large circle of functions and positions in a staffing design that disperses leadership around the circle and creates a culture of continuous learning. In this setting people who only know their component of a larger set of processes learn about the bigger picture as subject matter experts lead the team through open discussions of the relative areas of the project. These forums allow for the expression of individual experience and know how as well as the design of a working approach for the group that permits role shifts among team members as different kinds of challenges and issues arise and ensures all stakeholder requirements are satisfied.

Job rotation within the project circle becomes an enriching reality. People move in circular ways learning new skills and expanding their knowledge which is a benefit for both the individual and the organization. Today’s knowledge workers carry their tool kits in their heads and a rigid hierarchy is not suited for them to trail blaze the future.

Challenge everything and clean out the closet

When laying tracks for tomorrow there should be no sacred cows. Project teams should challenge every policy, practice, procedure and assumption. Management must learn to practice what Peter Drucker called ‘planned abandonment’ which is discarding programs, policies, and practices that worked years ago but have little relevance or provide obstacles to the future organization project teams are building.  You know every once in a while you clean out your closet and fill a few bags with clothes so you can fit new clothes in your closet. Organizations need to do the same and stop holding on to old practices that require system, regulatory, operational and training maintenance.

As a project manager you need to lead the discussion on shedding things and have the team realize they cannot create something new until they can let go of the past. We have to get teams to look at other possibilities. Typically it’s ‘we can’t do that because the system can’t…… or management says…’ in other words ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ In many organizations it’s a career threatening act for individuals to raise their hand and say wait a second, I have a question about what we’re doing. Change efforts require shifting from solving problems because of the old way of doing things to creating, and bringing something new into being.

Leaders all

Every project must have not one but many leaders. I see it as different people leading at different times throughout the project life cycle. As the project manager you must ‘stir the pot’ and articulate different positions on issues affecting the project and then get out of the way. Allow the leaders ‘on demand’ to perform across every level of the project organization leading discussions that provide education and awareness to project stakeholders that assist with decision making to define the new way of doing business.

Leaders are taking today’s organization and transforming it into tomorrow’s productive, high performing and competitive enterprise. While the milestones along the journey are known the destinations are unknown and filled with anxiety of what will be. For each organization the destination will be determined not only by the ups and downs of the road ahead but also by the quality of the undertakings and the leadership it inspires. Project management is an integral part of that leadership effort.

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