Imagine you are working on a project and it is going to finish late. It is a scenario that many of us will be familiar with. Is the project a failure? That depends. There are many situations in which a project is late. There are many situations in which a project – or at least a properly defined and well run project looks late, but isn’t. This happens when we confuse aspirations with plans.
We’ve all heard the joke: a consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time. What makes the joke funny, in the way Dilbert is funny, is that we know there is some truth in it. I don’t want to tar all consultants with the same brush, but some consultants really do just borrow your watch to tell you the time. To be fair, many don’t and even when they do, sometimes it’s what the client asked for.
In the UK TV comedy Dad’s Army, Corporal Jones was a character who at regular intervals would run around shouting “Don’t panic! Don’t Panic!” The joke was he was always panicking.
It feels like this on many of the projects I am involved in. There is some pretence about being calm, but there are many signs of panicking. And what is everyone panicking about? Usually, time and money.
There are many reasons projects and programs get in trouble. Problems we are all familiar with include: poorly defined goals, lack of sponsorship, ineffective prioritisation and access to resources, and when there is no drive to make progress. I have been involved in lots of projects in my career, and I’d love to say every one of them was a success, but it would be a lie. Quite a big lie. I have been in projects with every one of these problems, sometimes all of them.
Not long ago I published a post titled "what's the point of change management?" (you can find it on this site). In this article I want to do the same sort of thing for project management. I aim to write a third article contrasting project and change management.
Like many people who post on LinkedIn, I am deeply interested in the development of leadership and management disciplines - how we can continue to make them better. One way we can improve the way we work is to identify best practices and then apply them more widely. And this seems to be a commonly accepted approach. I want to express a bit of scepticism about this approach.
I’m about three quarters of the way through Proust’s magnum opus In Search of Lost Time. This novel has somewhat over 1.2 million words. It’s long - very long - and rather little happens in it. It is made up of a series of relatively trivial events bound together by the author’s observation and comments on those events. It’s not Game of Thrones.
I can try to give you a simple explanation of the book: “self-obsessed, sickly, rich guy’s musing on life and love in early twentieth century Paris”, but such a simple explanation hardly gives you a flavour of the book. I can’t really give you a good simple explanation of the book. You need to read some of it if you want to get a sense – and quite a lot of it to get a real understanding.
The stakeholder universe is becoming ever more complex for organizations. It has always been a challenge to determine which groups of stakeholders to focus on. Current trends are exacerbating this.
Traditionally there were three main types of stakeholders organizations had to consider. Firstly, there were the owners and funders of the business, such as shareholders and banks, ensuring their needs were being met by the organization’s performance and strategy. Secondly, there was the internal audience of staff and work colleagues, making sure they were motivated and understood the organization’s direction. Thirdly, was the external audiences of customers and suppliers, making sure they were happy to keep buying and supplying.
I often act as a facilitator, working with teams to create a picture of the desired future state for their organization. This picture acts as the guiding light or vision for the change initiatives they undertake.
I have a client whose chief executive has been talking up a strategic change. He has adopted a set of words to encapsulate, explain and encourage the change. He uses them a lot. If you listen to the words of the CEO everything will soon be profoundly different from the way they are now.
The words imply change. Radical change. As someone who spends his life helping organizations with change, I am interested in these words.
There is one type of change that results in more eye rolling, cynical comments and coffee machine jokes than any other. I am talking about changes that go under names like “cultural change”, “new values” or “behavioural change”. Announce an initiative of this type and many of your team will be sceptical. They will be sceptical because they have seen it all before. They have observed many cultural change programs previously and noted that nothing really changed as a result of any of them.