Updated: Apr 19
My goal is to help people become project managers, and one of the most common frustrations I hear from new Project Management Professionals (PMP) is that they were hired, promoted, or put in charge of a project because of their PMP credential, but then they hit a brick wall of frustration when trying to implement good project management practice within their organizations. They are certain they were chosen for a new role due to their awesome, new PMP super-powers, but then organizational leadership and fellow employees are just not very supportive of proposed changes needed to produce successful projects.
Recently,I was the guest speaker at a meeting of local project managers at a military base, and asked them the following question:
“Have you been frustrated by resistance from executives, management, or staff when trying to employ good project management practice?”
100% of the attendees answered “Yes”! It may be a small sample size; but, to me, it’s a continuation of the trend I’ve been hearing. So, I thought about my own experience as a project manager, and deduced in my mind the root-cause of why their efforts are not being supported: It’s a lack of trust. The organization has a hard time letting go of old standard practice and venturing out into the unknown abyss of new ideas. It’s the classic objection to organizational change – “But, we’ve always done it this way”.
While forcing your expert opinion on stakeholders like a drill-instructor is certainly an attractive option to correct this problem, it seldom produces the buy-in and support that you really need.
You can’t go about this by shooting from the hip and making stupid mistakes. You have to be smart about it, in order to accomplish the success you were hired to produce.
Organizational change is tough…
It’s tougher if you’re stupid.
Based on my own experience, I’ve formulated a template of how I was able to influence & build trust that led to real success on several organizational projects. And, it starts with the idea of establishing your secret mission to sneak up on project stakeholders and influence their perspective in your favor before they even know what happened to them – you must become The Covert PMP!
he template consists of 3 key elements: 1) Structure, 2) Steps, and 3) SkillsBased on my own experience, I’ve formulated a template of how I was able to influence & build trust that led to real success on several organizational projects.
First, realize this is a project! It’s certainly a temporary endeavor, and you have a unique goal in mind to achieve a certain organizational change, like implementing the use of a work breakdown structure, or a solid risk management system. So, treat it like one. Build your plan as you would for any project, start executing, and prepare to progressively elaborate your plan as you encounter challenges.
Next, focus on stakeholder management. Organizational change is all about unifying the collective mindset of the people involved to agree on the benefits of the proposed change and the best way to implement the change. Follow standard stakeholder management good practice. Identify and analyze all the stakeholders, determine their current and desired states of engagement, formulate strategies to move them from current to desired state, and then execute your strategies. Your goal is to influence everyone to support your proposed change, or at least not actively resist it.
Here are the steps I followed that produced successful organizational embracement of good project management practice:
Identify and clearly articulate the organizational problem you are trying to solve. Use quantitative data and be prepared to wow your stakeholders with how poorly things are going because the organization is not following good project management practice. Paint a bleak picture of the current situation
Research & collect success stories from similar organizations that have overcome similar problems by implementing good project management practice. This takes time, but the results of your research will be worth it when your stakeholders realize they can duplicate someone else’s success using the methods you propose
Align key-volunteer confederates. You need help, so find sympathizers within your organization, and first sell them on conspiring with you in your covert operation. Then, deploy them back into the organizational population with orders to influence everyone within their reach using the quantitative data and success stories you provide
Go for senior management buy-in. You need support for your idea from on high, so take your confederates with you and assault the hill with combined arms. Once senior management is on board with the plan, you can leverage that as authority to become more bold in your approach
Get rank & file buy-in. This is actually the toughest part; research shows that employee resistance to change is the largest contributing factor of failed change efforts. But, it can be done, primarily by involving everyone in your project, and letting them know that their concerns are being addressed and their ideas included
The graphic above illustrates the 6 key skills I employed in implementing the 5 steps listed earlier. Notice that I found them all to be drivers of building trust! When I started this essay, I proposed the assumption that a lack of trust is the main reason good project management practice is not readily embraced within an organization, so building trust must be the focus of The Covert PMP! It’s imperative that the majority of the people in the organization support, or at least do not resist the proposed change, so you must involve everyone, listen and work closely to resolve differences, address root causes of concerns, represent yourself as the expert in the situation, and most importantly – be patient! Once you have established trust with your stakeholders, the rest of your work is like shooting fish in a barrel.
As a final thought, don’t fall in love with your perfect idea of how to do things within the organization. The goal here isn’t necessarily to win a war and get your own way in every detail; the goal is to get your organization to move in the direction of good project management practice by winning one small battle at a time. And, even battles won rarely turn out perfect…every victory has its price.
Utilizing the strategies above, Tim won the 2014 High Performing Organization award for implementing good project management practice at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.