Mitigating the tell-tale signs of pending project management failure

As the principal partner of Solutia SDO, Jackie Clark has had a direct role in managing the people behind the technology that’s transformed businesses across Canada. When IT projects stall, this seasoned leader, who’s had a front seat watching tech transform business in Canada, knows how to manage people to get projects running again. This bi-weekly column is for leaders working on enterprise-wide projects searching for insight on navigating the issues and pain points that hijack success. We’ll be sharing the most common questions Clark hears from her clients and her responses to them. Do you want your project management problems solved? Leave a comment with your question or  Tweet Jackie @sdosolutia.

We are experiencing some real issues trying to implement a transformational initiative in one of the business lines in our bank. I know what needs to be done to manage change effectively – or at least I thought I did – but didn’t see the writing on the wall when the plan was not working. Can you provide some insight into what I was missing?

Sorry to hear about your problems but you’ve raised an interesting question. We spend a lot of our time as project and change managers learning about best practices and implementing plans to support those practices. But sometimes despite our best efforts it just doesn’t work. Before we get to the signs of impending failure, let’s review best practice for implementing change:

  • Executive sponsorship
  • A clear, shared vision
  • Capacity for change
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

Ok. I know that everyone gets that. Now let’s look at some worst practice in managing change starting with a quote:

“As a manager, the important thing is not what happens when you are there, but what happens when you are not there.”

Flip the four bullets around to recognize the four signs of failure in managing change:

  • Change in leadership, or leadership priorities
  • Staff can’t describe the project’s vision – what is it supposed to do and why it’s important to do it?
  • Budget cuts, no spend-to-save policy, short-term approach to investment, stressed-out staff working hard just to stand still
  • Nobody can remember the last time anybody mentioned the initiative to their teams

When this happens, you end up on the treadmill heading for failure:

  1. No time for reflection and planning
  2. No improvement in design and implementation
  3. Increasing pressure to ‘do something, anything!’
  4. More unplanned obstacles
  5. Rinse and repeat

Now that we’ve flagged what a good project looks like, and highlighted the tell-tale signs that a project is going off the rails,  I’m sure you see how important it is to always be on alert — watch leadership and staff closely for first signs of a problem. If you hear any of the following excuses, get ready to spring into action:

“It’s not my job”

“I haven’t got time”

“Nobody cares anyway”

“I’m keeping my head down this time”

“If it’s such a good idea, why didn’t we do this the last time management changed its mind?”

“Why bother, this too shall pass”

“Nobody told me about it…..”

Jackie Clark
Jackie Clark
Program and change management expert in digital and data transformation, and technology system reengineering.

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