Have you ever worked on (or led) a project, and had an inkling that it was going to fail before you even started? Why? What is it about some change initiatives that fail miserably before they get to the starting gate?
What are the signals that your project is doomed, and what can you do to fix it?
If you find yourself looking back, saying something like:
…You probably had things working against your from the get-go, and had you been able to recognize them, maybe things would have unfolded differently.
Here are a few sure fire signs your project is starting off on a broken foot:
1. THE PROJECT IS SPONSORED BY A GROUP OF PEER LEADERS
One of the worst things to hear for anyone leading a big change project is that there will be multiple “Project Sponsors.” As the primary leader that spearheads final decisions and helps to remove obstacles for the project, having more than one “sponsor” is a recipe for disaster. This adds layers of unnecessary complexity and bureaucracy to the project.
Much like the three headed dragon, there is not much good that can come from having more than one sponsor.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
– Get commitment for ONE sponsor.
It may be easier said than done, but Project Sponsorship is a job for one. When a big change project is being chartered, it is critical to drive home that the sponsor should be the one leader that has the most at stake in the project’s success/failure. The project sponsor is the person that will help secure resources, make the final sign-off, and drive prioritizing. For large change initiatives, there is often one senior leader that fits that bill.
One company I worked with told me this story:
Organizational change is hard enough without the added stress of multiple sponsors added to the mix. If all else fails, schedule time with the sponsors and the most senior person they all report to. Leverage the senior person to select the sponsor from the group. More often than not, that senior leader will end up being the sponsor to avoid showing favoritism, and to help increase the likelihood of project success.
2. THERE IS NO COMMITMENT FROM THE MEMBERS OF THE CORE PROJECT TEAM THAT THEY WILL BE DEDICATED TO THE INITIATIVE
How many times has a project charter been approved, only to fail because the resources selected to be part of the “core team” had neither the time to spend, nor the authority to make decisions?
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
– Lock in the project team OR get commitment that decisions made without them will be followed without protest
Yes, it sounds naive, but if a project is supposed to be high priority, then the proper resources should be assigned.
Recently, I was working with a client on a very large, time sensitive process/systems development initiative. My client worked hard to meet with each process owner. They all agreed that the project was a priority, but were not willing to dedicate resources to make it happen. The senior leader of the area demanded that the project be completed. In the end, we presented four alternatives to the group of business owners to determine how to go forward:
- The project team would create the new processes and system flow with limited input from the business owners. The project team would use their internal organizational and industry knowledge to complete the design. They would present this to the business owners prior to going into development. There would be no need for resources from business owner teams, but they would have to live with the design that was implemented.
- They could make resources available to work on the system and process design.
- They could break the project up into two phases. Although the phases would require two rounds of testing and added development time, it would not tie up business owner resources
- They could decide not to implement any process or systems changes.
In the end, the business owners selected #1 with some modifications. It was not optimal, but at least it kept the project moving in the right direction.
3. THE PROJECT IS PART OF A LARGER INITIATIVE THAT HAS NO DIRECTION OR LEADERSHIP
There are many projects that fall under the umbrella of a larger initiative, like “Compliance” or “Integrated Talent Management.” Far too often, these overarching initiatives don’t have a leader that can help to connect projects together, or show synergy between projects.
A recent client was working on implementing an integrated talent management process and system. There were many projects that were part of making the system a reality. However, there was no designated leader to spearhead it. Therefore, every project that was supposed to be part of the larger initiative failed to articulate the benefits the same way, and business leaders were asked for their people’s time constantly. In very short order, people began to tune out requests for projects that were necessary for integrated talent management. They did not see the long-term benefits, and no one was articulating how the work contributed to the larger effort.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
– If you are in a position to do so, offer to take on spearheading the larger initiative. It has often been said that leaders emerge when the need arises. Don’t let the fact that no one asked you to lead it stop you from trying. If there is no leader, why can’t it be you?
– Convince your boss that the project is not possible without a leader. A project that is part of a larger initiative, without someone spearheading that initiative, is a recipe for disaster. It’s more likely to get the proverbial cold shoulder than the time and energy it needs without a champion. If the leader of the larger initiative can’t be you, maybe your boss can take it on.
– Go to the senior leader of the group to designate a leader of the larger initiative. Make a pitch to the senior leader to take on being that “initiative leader.” It is likely they already have some sway in the organization, so they can put their political weight behind a project and remove obstacles quickly.
4. THE PROJECT COMES ON THE HEELS OF ANOTHER THAT FAILED
It is a common misconception that people suffer from “change fatigue.” That is, they don’t want to work on another change initiative because they are so overwhelmed by all the constant change. This concept is not really accurate.
People aren’t overwhelmed by change, they are tired of change that fails, is not fully implemented, or does not produce benefits. Unfortunately, once people go through a change initiative that fails, they are much more resistant to taking on more change. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to sell the business benefits, it is not enough to sway their minds.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT
– Slow the project down. Don’t try to go too quickly when implementing anything disruptive. Break the initiative into smaller phases to ease the change into existence.
– Start with more communication. Communicate much more about the business benefits and potential impacts of the project. Don’t try to sugar coat the downside of the project. People like to know that the change might cause temporary pain.
– Get intended users, or people impacted by the change, involved to gain their insight. This is known as the pull method of change. Make sure the people impacted by the change have a hand in the change’s design. This will increase the “buy in,” and create an end result that takes their issues into consideration.
5. THE POTENTIAL LAUNCH DATE COINCIDES WITH AN INITIATIVE THAT WILL IMPACT THE SAME GROUP OF PEOPLE
It is true that the only constant in business today is change, but too much change at one time (impacting a single group) is not productive. Organizations often launch a series of initiatives that impact the same people at the same time, but because these come from various business units, they are not always coordinated. This leads to a great deal of confusion, and can negatively impact the business.
One client of mine said:
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
-CHANGE YOUR LAUNCH DATE!!!
Unless business cannot be conducted without the change, space out changes that impact one group too much. It’s just good change management!
Don’t let common “change killers” stop your change initiatives before they start.
What have you seen that stops change in your organization before it starts?