When contemplating the consequences of project failure, people usually think of the budget, which is warranted. A 2021 PMI survey found that, on average, poor project performance can waste 9.4% of a company’s investment.
Although that’s concerning, it’s far from the only consequence of project failure. In fact, you can usually recoup the money. But those “black swan” events can be catastrophic, especially if the project was necessary to fix a fatal flaw, for example. Failure takes a toll on everything from processes, workflows, and productivity to resource management, data insights, and customer experience.
When project failure sets a business back too far, it can take years to catch up with the competition.
Heads will likely roll as a result — and not only the project manager’s head, but also the heads of the directors, VPs, COO, and anyone else associated with the project. Board of directors can get ruthless, even when the reasons projects fail have nothing to do with the people on the project team.
A failed project can take the form of a boogeyman, just waiting to punish those who dare to venture into a similar initiative.
But fear not! When you put the people and resources in place to make projects a strength instead of a weakness, success can become the norm within your organization.
How to Gear Your Project Management Culture Toward Success
The expectation shouldn’t be that all projects hit every baseline, but organizations have come to take failure too much for granted. However, according to the same PMI survey mentioned above, project managers reported that 73% of projects met their original goals or business intent. That’s a solid enough starting point to help organizations close the gaps in their portfolios.
It all starts with effective leadership in project management. You need to instill project managers in a solid infrastructure from the C-suite down to the smallest team. Here are the best ways to do that:
1. Embrace organizational change management.
Organizational change management (or OCM) is essentially a framework for managing any business change. But the focus isn’t just on the processes and procedures involved in bringing a project across the finish line.
It’s more about the people side of change and addressing areas such as training, communication, and readiness for a given change.
Treat OCM as an opportunity to continually foster a flexible and success-driven project culture. Adopt project management and oversight software to help shepherd things along.
It’s almost inevitable that project elements will change at a moment’s notice. But, with OCM in place, those changes won’t throw you or your team off track too much. If anything, it’ll prepare employees to roll with the punches and continue pushing toward the finish line.
2. Follow the VIA methodology.
People tend to use the word “evolution” when discussing organizational change, but change should really look more like intelligent design. Instead of accidentally arriving at an optimal state through a series of fatal errors (like in evolution), you should take deliberate steps toward a planned change to better adjust to the environment.
The Vision-Implement-Adopt (or VIA) methodology is a way to design and realize that change intelligently.
The process is relatively straightforward: Start by assessing your current state then define the desired future state of operations. Once that’s complete, you must develop a plan to bridge the gap between the two states. From there, it’s a matter of executing the roadmap and adopting the changes long-term.
3. Support project management.
Though this might sound like obvious advice, only two out of five organizations value project management as an operational discipline. As a result, you might need to reevaluate whether your organization is providing project managers with the necessary resources to lead the charge.
Project management support comes down to the six roles and responsibilities of project management: leadership, expertise, analysis, scheduling, coordination, and administration. Leadership is chief among them and the one that helps the other five aspects engage and stay harmonious.
Leaders connect with every aspect of a project and ensure everyone has what they need to succeed.
Expertise is the on-the-ground knowledge a team needs to execute a project from every angle. The analysis looks at all of a project’s essential insights and how they impact completion. Scheduling ensures deadlines are prioritized, while coordination and administration work to keep all the logistics on track. If any one role is missing or ineffective, the whole project is off-kilter. So, start your problem-solving there.
4. Rethink the project management framework.
When you start to feel the effects of poor leadership in project management, it is often the result of the project management leadership paradox. This is when project managers traditionally have more accountability than authority.
To take project management seriously, executives need to equip project managers with the proper levers to lead. It’s almost the inverse of the adage, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Someone accountable for as much as a project manager is responsible for should have the power necessary to meet those expectations.
Think about how you can better equip project managers with more tangible power to drive productivity, hold team members accountable, and bring a project across the finish line.
Preparation is always key for any new initiative. Of course, you need a plan and clear direction for moving forward. But part of that preparation process should start well before the ideation phase, which means ensuring that anyone taking the helm is in the best position possible — with the proper framework, resources, and support to see the project through. That, in and of itself, can ensure effective leadership in project management.
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