How to keep your project in a state of happiness

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go." ~ Oscar Wilde

fireworks 227383 1280
Credit: Pixabay

When organizations initiate a project, the level of enthusiasm is at an all time high, as it should be. All noses point in the right direction and people are ready to make things happen. They are ready for the fireworks to rumble. However, a few weeks into the project the first cracks start to appear. And some of those cracks are hard to repair. Why does this happen and what can be done about it?

There can be many triggers that cause the happy state to change and sometimes change rapidly. Some of these triggers surface more often than others. Here are 5 triggers that are quite common in technology-driven-change projects:

1. The vision of the future-state does not seem to be same for the key stakeholders as they are going through the solution design and build phase.

It can be very hard to get and keep the key stakeholders aligned and committed to the purpose and vision of the project. They all have their opinions, ambitions and agendas to manifest. Working towards shared project goals continues to be a challenge, especially for the more traditional and function oriented organizations, where silo-ed behavior is still very dominant.

It's a core task of the project leadership team to provide progressive insight and detail as the project moves ahead. This is an ongoing responsibility. Among other instruments, visualization and demonstrations of the end-state can be quite helpful to manage expectations, deal with adversarial conditions, and level set on the intended outcome and benefits.

I have seen projects where key stakeholders signed off in front of the project team on the vision and high level design as a symbol of unity and conformity. That in itself is a great idea, but it doesn’t necessarily mean much. What it ultimately comes down to is "how bad do you want the change" and "what is in it for you to give" instead of "what is in it for you to take." Unfortunately, the latter is still too powerful.

2. The willingness to transition to the new operating model has diminished now that people and organizational impacts are better understood as well as the change process itself.

People really get a good understanding of change when it is about to manifest and not much earlier for various reasons. This is regardless of all the organizational change impact activities and communications that are happening.  

Internalizing the scope and impact of change is a challenge in itself. Robin Sharma says "change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end." Based on what I have experienced in projects his message is bang on.

Dealing with competing priorities is another reason why this occurs, as well as work prioritization and simply procrastination.

There are a few ways to address this. First of all, the overall change leadership must come from a revered senior leader in the organization who has the authority, experience and ability to pull the right change levers. As an example, somebody at the senior level must be in a position to force people to decide to "get on the bus or not."

Second of all, the implementation of people and organizational change should be managed by the key stakeholders themselves with assistance from the project team, not the other way around. They are on the receiver side and have a vested interest to manage change properly, whether they fully understand it at first or not.

Taking early ownership of change is crucial. Organizations who have been successful with transformations have established change teams in their business operations that worked closely with the project change team.

3. Some of the key internal and external resources do not qualify for their role on the project and are not replaced in a timely fashion.

The quality of the solution is directly related to the quality of the people who are put on the project team. Technology is not the key driver of success, people are. It is how the people work with technology and apply it to their own organization, operating model and business processes. If you set people up for success, you set up the project for success.

Therefore, the best and most qualified internal and external resources must be assigned to the team. A key qualifier is the ability of the individual to bring the organization to the future-state. 

Adequate time should be dedicated to define job profiles, roles and responsibilities and the project governance model. This applies to all project resources, internal and external from system integrators and staffing agencies.

At the start of the project, a process should be defined for managing resources who do not perform. Key stakeholders and external organizations should agree and sign off on the process. The issue management process should be used in case one of the parties is non-compliant with the process.

4. The internal project team resources have not been adequately trained in methods, tools and the new technology. This can lead to a communication gap with external resources, and eventually solution quality issues and less realized benefits.

There are too many projects that start without the core project team being trained properly for time and budget reasons. There is an expectation that the team members obtain the required knowledge as the project progresses. This is fundamentally wrong and should be avoided at all times. Senior leaders who initiate projects should understand that training pays off in multiples for the short (project) and long (sustainment) term.

When people grow their skills the organization grows with it. The return on investment on project team training can be significant. Technology-driven-change projects are the best events for top talent to grow and extend their potential.

Organizations should spend time on assessing the personal goals of each of the core team members and match them as best possible with project and business goals. This activity leads to major mutual benefits: intrinsically motivated project staff, high-performing teams that drive results, and organizations achieving key objectives.

5. The organization has limited experience with managing large scale business transformation projects. Despite setting the initiative up as a project, the key business stakeholders in reality manage it as an extension of their daily functional operation

Every technology-driven-change project must be set up with a "projectized" organization model to minimize the risk of functional leaders indirectly running it with potentially different interests and priorities. The authority over scope, schedule, budget and resources must be with the project leader and not with the functional leaders.

Project leaders run into issues when one of these dimensions are outside their control. As example, a project leader who has no influence over budget and resources is not able to optimize the project team as required. As mentioned above, projects are all about people, their character, competence, capacity and performance. A project leader must be able to influence that at all times.

It is critical that the core team resources are full-time assigned to the project and backfilled in the functional organization as required. The reporting relationship transitions to the project leader, as well as all performance management activities. The organization should develop a career plan for each of the core team members that allow for a return to the functional organization once the project has been completed.

To enable this "projectized" model the project sponsor must provide a transparent mandate to the project leader that is supported by the functional leaders impacted by the project. The roles and responsibilities of the project and functional leaders must be clearly articulated at the same time.

These are just five triggers of many that can cause the happy state of the project to change. It is very important for organizations to establish the right level of project leadership. Organizations that have successfully delivered projects have build their own leadership team of internal and external resources. The internal resources bring in the business expertise, whereas the external resources project management, business process improvement and business transformation skills.

You build and sustain a happy project when you set up people and teams for success. That can take a lot of preparation and effort before you conduct the project kick-off. The extra time is well spent and is much less compared to the time that is required to make corrective actions as you go. Think twice!

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

To comment on this article and other CIO content, visit us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
Download the CIO Nov/Dec 2016 Digital Magazine
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.