Project & Change Series Part 3: The Project Manager’s Perspective

Part 3 of our discussion series looking at the traditional roles of the Project Manager, Change Manager, related BAU functions, and how these roles integrate... Ulysses De Vincentis gives the Project Manager's perspective.



Missed the first two parts of this Series? Click here:

Will your existing project delivery structure remain relevant in a world of hyper-connectivity and constant technology change?

Project & Change Series Part 2: An Organisational Change Management View

As the project manager in this discussion it often strikes me how often organisations embark upon the initiation of a project with gusto and fanfare, but how quickly people begin to lose interest and pockets of resistance become apparent. It does not matter how big the project is, or the level of organisational maturity, it always happens.

This is where so many organisations fail to see benefits being delivered from their projects.

Why do projects struggle to effect change?

Project managers set up governance and control mechanisms, we brief the project team, we brief our managers, we manage the project – we do everything that is within our control, and within our ability of influence, to get to a successful outcome.

The success of a project – and therefore the project manager – is traditionally measured on time, budget, and delivery on the full specifications. The benefits plan, and realisation of those benefits, becomes the responsibility of the organisation through BAU or other special programs.

What we don’t do – and are sometimes blocked from doing – is ask questions to explore what is driving the project, and what business benefits the organisation is trying to achieve. Questions such as:

  • Does the organisation have a ‘can-do’ mentality?
  • Is the organisation fully on-board with the change that the project will deliver?
  • Is the executive prepared to mandate the changes necessary to help achieve project outcomes?

Some would say that this is the role of the program manager - and further, the portfolio manager - but we are now delving into organisational psychology.

In my opinion that is beyond the realm of a project manager, however it gets to the heart of the issue regarding who is ultimately responsible for benefit realisation.

Who is the owner of Benefit Realisation in organisations?

Several years ago my wife was doing some research for work associated with Agile Education. She asked me “why are you a project manager when 50-60% of all projects fail?”

In a recent report from PMI - Pulse of the Profession: The High Cost of Low Performance 2014 - the research conducted found that - “Very few organizations (9 percent) rate themselves as excellent on successfully executing initiatives to deliver strategic results. Consequently, only 56 percent of strategic initiatives meet their original goals and business intent.

It was a very good question, since no one likes to be associated with failure. As touched on by my colleague Paul Jenkinson in the previous article in this series – projects fail for a number of reasons, but there is one overarching theme – failure to deliver the intended benefits to the organisation.

  • Did the time and cost equation over balance the benefits equation?
  • Did the quality compromise the ability to achieve the benefits?
  • Was the delivered scope unsuitable for benefits realisation?
  • Were the original benefits overstated?
  • Was the organisation able to reap the intended benefits?

The top three points are within the control of the project manager through management of risk, issues and changes, scope management, schedule management, dependency management and all things that the PMBoK states needs to be managed.

The last two are of interest for this discussion, they speak to two things that I see regularly.

Overstated benefits and underfunded projects

During the process of getting business cases approved, parts of organisations can overstate benefits and understand project costs. This sets the project up for failure before it has even been approved. The overstating of benefits and understating of project costs can usually be put down to culture and/or maturity issues within the organisation. These become apparent during the preparation of business cases.

For example, I worked at one organisation where the standard approach from the investment committee was to halve the benefits and double the costs to see if the benefits stacked up. This was the litmus test prior to getting seat at the investment committee for project approval and funds allocation.

You can imagine what behaviour this drove – overstating the benefits and understating the costs. If the project was given the green light, the project manager was already behind the eight ball. Without enough time and money to deliver an overstated set of benefits, nearly all projects were set up for failure.

If the maturity of that organisation was higher, where it focused on a transparent discussion about the merits and costs of a project, the broader organisational interests would be better served. In this scenario sponsors would be putting forward business cases that would have a higher chance of success.

Is the organisation really committed to the change that the project will deliver?

This is the area that I believe requires a special focus. It drives multiple speeds within an organisation, the project usually trying to be quick and nimble (time is money), and the parts of the organisation that the project will touch, each with its own mindsets and bureaucracies, that hinder and slow the project.

The manifestation of this duality of speeds becomes apparent when a project delivery is slowed by the BAU’s desire for no risk certainty of operations. It is this area that we need to explore in greater detail.

A strong partnership between the project manager and change manager is crucial for the understanding of the organisation and its behaviours and goes far beyond what we traditionally see Organisational Change Management (OCM) doing.

In a traditional project – OCM is brought in around the same time the project starts and usually undertakes several things including current state analysis, future state analysis, organisational impact assessment, job impact assessment, training needs etc. All of these need to be done, but that is not all.

A non-traditional view is that the organisation has embedded an OCM capability that is continually driving the organisation to becoming more flexible, more malleable and more ready to accept change. Ultimately this leads to an organisation that is more readily capable of innovation. Projects are the vehicles of delivering innovation and change – OCM lays the ground work, and prepares the organisation to accept and operationalise changes in a more effective manner.

Effective and continuous OCM leads to a culture of good leadership, effective decision making, empowerment through delegation, balanced risk taking, analysis and learning from failures and successes. The extent to which these factors have been addressed, will then determine the size of the problem that the project manager has to deal with. This speaks to the broader OCM challenge, over and above those seen in individual projects.

Addressing the issue of OCM from the top down

We structure projects that can be within programs, that both fall within a portfolio. We align OCM to projects, or as a project in its own right.

But where is the OCM view of the portfolio? Where is the OCM function that pervades BAU? Where is the Chief of Change?

It is these points that I believe are missing in the majority of organisations and leads to poor project outcomes.

The project space is often more highly regarded than the organisational change space. This is evidenced by positions such as Chief of Projects, Head of Projects and the investment that is made in training project managers. There are still sections within organisations that look at OCM with derision – those “huggie, feely types” - or suspicion – those people will expose my management style and cascade down authority.

Projects can impact on small parts of an organisation, and scale up to the whole organisation. Consideration needs to be given to the culture of the organisation that the project is being delivered into. For example, do staff and management have a 'bring it on' attitude, or do they defend the status quo?

Each culture type requires different strategies and results in different outcomes.

During projects that I have delivered I am occasionally confronted with the statement “it will never work”. In a 'bring it on' culture, good testing, based on strong requirements will provide a solution.

However, if the statement is based around “it is different to what we do today”, then the BAU influence of change management needs to be amplified to help the culture to move forward.

Embracing and promoting change in your culture

The role of the BAU OCM function locks organisations into providing continuous leadership coaching and mentoring across all leadership positions, effective delegation and good decision making approaches.

There may be people who cannot work in such an environment due to their beliefs and attitudes. Conversely there will be people who will flourish in this sort of environment, as a culture develops into one which is 'change ready'. Leaders will gain confidence in decision making and delegating to others, which increases the chances of seeing benefits being delivered by project success.  

Our research highlights key practices that maximize organizational value. By maturing project management capabilities, focusing on talent and change management, and insisting on a benefits realization review, high performers successfully complete more projects. They are more flexible and waste fewer dollars.” PMI Pulse of the Profession: The High Cost of Low Performance 2014

At the end of the day, projects are about change, they are the vehicle and instrument of change. Organisations that champion change from the very top levels will be more likely to achieve high levels of success in project delivery and benefits realisation.

About the Author

Ulysses De Vincentis is the National Practice Leader for the Program & Project Management at CSC Consulting.

He has considerable experience gained from delivering a wide variety of program and projects over the last 20 years, as well as the establishment and management of IT and Business Portfolios.

Since joining he has been heavily involved in project health checks, and the recovery of projects for our clients.

Ulysses De Vincentis

Ulysses De Vincentis is the National Practice Leader for the Program & Project Management at UXC Consulting.

He has considerable experience gained from delivering a wide variety of program and projects over the last 20 years, as well as the establishment and management of IT and Business Portfolios.

Since joining UXC Consulting he has been heavily involved in project health checks, and the recovery of projects for our clients.