Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Thin End of the Wedge - How To Sell Project Management To Disbelievers

Where do you start? Selling project management to disbelievers is a serious challenge when trying to grow an organic project-based culture. Making the case for project management involves knowing how, and who, to influence with the details that matter. How can you get someone to really understand something that they’ve never really seen before? You need the real thing. The greatest advocates of project management are those that have had it work on a project from beginning to end. These are people that have seen several ‘near misses’ averted, but also have a full understanding of the potential impact on the bottom line. Project management works. We all know that, but now we have to prove it to other people. You must tailor the message to your audience, and there are several great ways to make your pitch.

Thin End of the Wedge #1 – Lead by Example

The only way to understand project management is to see it in action. Setting a great example is the best way to demonstrate the benefits that result from a strong application of PM best practices. When projects are new to an organization it is very important to ensure that potential champions witness classic PM form. It is vital to ensure your initial projects have a very well defined beginning and end. In a non-projectized environment, it is very common for work engagements to have uncoordinated starts, and never-ending finishes. Work just happens. In the project-based culture, the key is to ensure both the team, and the larger organization, know exactly when a project has started and finished.

Communicating project timelines, status, and team composition is the best way to stand out from the crowd. For example, you should kick-off your first projects with a splash using several standard team-building tools. The group should work together to come up with a team name, common meeting area, and simple ground rules. Keep the tone electric, and really sell the sizzle. In addition, the initial meeting should be used to strongly define the project roles and responsibilities, scope, and timelines. When the project is complete, make sure you have a final celebration, team gift, and a lessons learned/postmortem. Publicize the project team results by putting a photo of the group in your company newsletter. Although they may not always be fun, projects are new to your organization. Make the novelty work for you by capitalizing on the little successes and work on ‘building the story’ around the growth of the project culture. By providing good form, you provide a concrete reference point for the entire organization.

Thin End of the Wedge #2 – Scope Matters

What is the one thing that you need to know if you have never heard of project management? Scope matters. All projects have a beginning and end, and a good PM must know exactly what has to be accomplished in the given timeframe. Scope must be well defined and clearly communicated to all project stakeholders. Once the boundaries have been clearly laid out, an array of tools and techniques must be deployed throughout the project to ensure the boundaries are protected.

It is important to explain that everyone benefits when the project team sticks to the scope. At any given time in a project, a sponsor may try to add a feature that would benefit her department, product, or corporate profile. Meanwhile, a team member may try to change an element that would make his job easier, be fun to do, or further pad his resume. The temptation to change scope is constant, and the context is usually very personally, and politically, charged. In organizations that are defined largely by functional activities, these types of changes are commonplace. Why? When your job is to do operational work, scope doesn’t really matter. In the project world, the PM must be adept at using issue management, change control, and quality communication techniques to keep the team focused on the project boundaries.

The PM is there to understand the big picture, and promote the long-term project view. Individuals that are focused on short-term objectives, usually suggest small functional changes, causing more ‘scope creep’. The job of the PM is to enable the team to fully understand the impact of out-of-scope changes, and promote the benefits of staying within the project boundaries. Ultimately, nobody on the team wants a project to be over time, over budget, or lacking features. The impact on company, career, and job satisfaction can be very real. The PM helps the team to stay on point, ensuring that maintaining project scope will benefit everyone.

Thin End of the Edge #3 – Accountability

‘Doing what we said we would do’. This pretty much sums up the objective of any well-run project, but project management disbelievers may not agree. It is tough to have accountability without scope, and both are often somewhat fuzzy in operational organizations. We all know individuals that have built a career around transferring, obscuring and denying accountability. The key advantage of project-based work is the ability to better define scope, and therefore better assign accountability.

By clearly defining the roles and responsibilities at the start of the project, it is possible to lay solid groundwork that will encourage more responsibility. Always remember that the ‘project role’ can often be different from the ‘organizational role’, and the distinction must be made very clearly. A team that knows exactly what is expected has a greater chance of success at meeting objectives. The project manager should take the time to personally review the assigned project role with each team member at the start of the project. Feedback should be gathered, allowing the PM to ‘sign off’ on the agreement with each person.

Although someone other than the PM may often assign project roles, it is important that the manager confirm the role with the individual. Remember that the best work assignment is always an agreement between the manager and the team member. Individuals that have a stake in the decision about role definition always appreciate the ability to better define their work. This is great for the team, and further strengthens the PM’s ability to ensure accountability.

Patience and Subtlety

Slow and steady. Organizational change is always best achieved through gentle execution of a well-planned set of objectives. Selling project management in an entrenched functional organization will always be tough. The key is to stick to a few simple principles, and work to the goals with patience and subtlety. To lead by example, patience is needed to allow several initiatives to pass through the full project lifecycle. Once the results are real, it will be easy to champion the success. The process of promoting scope and accountability in a functional organization will require a subtle approach to minimize the potential for ‘organizational shock’. The move to a project-based culture will really shake things up, and the wise PM will recognize the importance of treading lightly. Selling project management to disbelievers is a challenge that can be met when we stick to the vision, and work smart.

Article originally published in May 2008.

Dave Ullrich, B.Comm, PMP specializes in IT project management consulting and strategy with his company Cilantra Solutions. He can be reached at daveullrich@gmail.com.

1 comment:

  1. If senior management does not support PM culture, then it is always an uphill battle. Support at the top is vital.