This article is the first in a five part series around successfully delivering step changes in value through a comprehensive view of project / portfolio best practices and organizational change management. To access the other articles in this series, click here.
People are everything in projects. People are at the heart of our approach to portfolio improvement and organizational change.
Practically every forensic analysis of project failure has pointed to many of the “usual suspects”. Poor planning / front-end loading being the most typical culprit. But what is the real root cause of poor planning? People! The team was too optimistic, over-confident… or too scared to report the truth. We can’t eliminate the impact of human emotion on project outcomes.
People drive change. People inspire, create, motivate, execute and ultimately deliver the work. People are the most important “sensor” in managing project performance, but are you actually using this to improve your project?
The “Smell” of the Project
When we meet with experienced project managers, we hear many of the same stories repeated on projects around the world. At ProjectAI, we frequently talk about finding new ways to take the “pulse” of the project, but a few senior project managers have found it to be more like a “smell”. Something not necessarily tactile, but something that is in the air.
How connected and engaged are the people with the objectives of the project or change initiative? Does the team feel confident that the outcomes will be delivered on-time and on-budget? How free do they feel to openly share their concerns, and work with their teammates to find solutions to problems? Team behaviors are intrinsically linked with the culture of the project - and that culture is set by the people in the lead. Not just by what they say, but by what they do.
Do you really know how the team is feeling? How are you capturing that? What is the current sentiment of the project team, what insights are you deriving from it, and what action are you taking? Team sentiment can identify and amplify early warning signs that the project is potentially going off track.
Let’s take a practical example and use case. To mitigate schedule delay risk, are you tapping into the project’s most important resource, people? Imagine the team starting to see negative indications about a contractor’s performance or that material delivery delays are impeding progress. Then imagine that feedback could be automatically captured to flash as a beacon for action.
Then imagine that all this information is reported in seconds directly to the people who need to know, rather than an interrogation over status reports that are weeks or months old. Would that improve project performance and predictability? We believe so, and our discussions with customers have reinforced the need for this new approach.
Naturally, we must consider how to collect this sentiment without unintended consequences, while still promoting the values of transparency, collaboration and problem-solving. People are human, after all.
Looking forward, capturing the team’s sentiment must be a focal point for high performing projects, and it is part of what we do at ProjectAI. We not only collect this data, we integrate it with traditional project metrics to unlock a new array of predictive indicators. This is how we connect people to projects in revolutionary ways.
How are you connecting with the people on your project?
Stakeholders. The most critical part of a project that teams usually do nothing about.
Practically any project management expert would agree that stakeholder management is one of the most critical aspects of project success. Many different approaches to this have been documented in various methodologies and academic / professional literature. This has traditionally relied on people to facilitate - and it depends highly on their individual capability, experience and personal style. But this is a variable that we can’t afford to leave to chance.
You could create a “stakeholder register”, but is this truly enough to manage the complex web of stakeholders, and their different motivations and levels of influence? How do you take this broad concept, and make it a meaningful and ongoing part of your project? Stakeholders exist at all levels of the project, and in order to connect people to projects, we need to recognize this.
In the past, technology might have actually limited what we could reasonably do, but with the help of newer data modelling techniques and artificial intelligence, machines can map and analyze this in ways humans never could!
At ProjectAI, we are tackling the issue of stakeholder mapping in a new way, and we love to share our passion on this topic!
Building a People-Centric Project
There is a wide array of additional methods to improve the way your people connect to your project… some “art” and some “science”. Here are just a few additional ideas to consider:
Recognize intrinsic motivations - Naturally humans are motivated to act by very primal needs, which in a professional setting, usually relates to a monetary reward. But there are other things that can motivate performance - recognition, satisfaction, personal development, contribution to society or the community, just to name a few.
Declare the project’s values. State them boldly and repeat them often - Do you want a team that complains, points fingers, hides the truth, and does the bare minimum? Or do you want a team that solves problems, learns lessons, works together, and reports the facts transparently?
Rewarding constructive behaviors - Recognize your team members for both what they did, and how they did it. Make a clear point to acknowledge people who are demonstrating the team’s values, and finding new innovative ways to optimize project value.
Be clear about your approach to failure - Projects inherently involve predicting the future, which is hard to do, and teams don’t always get it right. So are you punishing failure? Or championing a culture of trying new ideas, reacting quickly, and learning from everyone’s mistakes?
Develop your people and manage talent, even in a volatile portfolio - Projects by definition, are temporary. So if a person’s role is terminating when the project completes, then they will spend a good deal of time focusing on their next move. Even in a temporary project, be clear about the personal development that each team member will gain though their active participation - right to the end! There are so many ways to build and retain people for long-term careers in projects, but many organizations do not make this a priority.
Destroy the communication hierarchy - A natural part of any large organisation is a hierarchy of leaders, even across contract boundaries. This is a necessary thing, but shouldn’t be an excuse for poor communication. Instead of forcing people to go though the chain, encourage them to go to straight to the person who needs to solve the problem. Technology can help with this!
Encourage and reward honesty - Everyone hates to look bad. Everyone fears embarrassment. But there is one thing we have heard from practically every project executive: “I don’t hate bad news. I hate hearing bad news when it’s too late to do anything about it.” In other words, be honest now. And executives can help be clear in their expectations of reporting. A good rule of thumb for executive communication: “Here’s what is happening. Here’s what we’re doing about it. We’ll keep you informed about how it’s going. Here’s how you can help.” We’ll share more about this in future articles on project reporting.
At ProjectAI, we are so passionate about connecting people to projects, we want to use every tool at our disposal to get this right. We would welcome the opportunity to work with you in helping you build people-centric projects. Please contact us to find out more!