Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects

Mirror, mirror… (Project shadow management)

The average project manager is affected by all sorts of diseases. One of the worst, that could be labelled as project manager’s myopia, in line with other sectoral diseases like manager’s myopia (that is related to perfectly managing something that should not be done at all) or marketeers’ myopia (when we further seek perfection to our product, to an extent that our customers do not demand neither understand or value).

Project manager’s myopia is something similar to paranoia, albeit in a much lesser way. There are some symptoms to be aware of:

  • Reality denial, we still are working as if things were like they used to be,
  • Reality avoidance, skipping focus on the symptoms of change,
  • Deflection, blaming change on others or seeking scapegoats that temporally justify mismatches,
  • Projection, attributing one’s feelings to other people, we have this disconnection because of someone else,
  • Splitting and radicalism, there are final groupings into good and bad things, good and bad people, good and bad customers… greys tend to converge into black and white only
  • Somatisation, in late stages people can even become ill to avoid facing reality

Ok, those are extremes, but what is it that usually happens?

Sometimes we simply focus so much on a project’s completion and success that we tend to forget that projects are not isolated realities but that they are inserted into organisations. With time our big project is able to evolve and change. This is something that we can naturally accept and live with. In fact we need a big dose of flexibility when driving our project through execution, when risks are being faced and decisions being made.

But the project is not the only thing that is about to change through its lifetime. The organisational reality in which it must fit is going to change also. A change that can even be induced or catalysed by means of the project that we are taking care of.

And what do we do in the face of change? First we still keep the serious intention of managing the match, usually following a stakeholder model like this one:

This stakeholder matrix represents the main groups of stakeholders, or people that have a say, that we have to manage. They are divided in four groups related to the power and influence they have and their importance (or stake):

Stakeholder Management
Low Importance High Importance
High Influence Keep Satisfied Manage Closely
Low Influence Monitor (minimal effort) Keep Informed

Those are reasonable and wise words but, in the end, when the project has overcome the frustration and hysteria phases, we are so focused on the final deliveries that we tend to forget about stakeholders at all. And then the mismatch occurs and blows up on our faces. That’s when the aforementioned symptoms start to occur.

There’s another model that I especially like. Made by Holland and Skarke, projects the need for change with an additional dimension: time.

The model is taken from an article focused on IT and organisational alignment, but it’s also applicable in many other contexts. It says clearly that we must be manage two projects at the same time:

  • Getting the system ready for the users, our main goal or the project that we are struggling to manage to completion
  • Getting the users ready for the system, the often overlooked part.

Getting the users ready for the system will entail much more than the simple stakeholder engagement described with the classical approach. In information systems will be related to the user acceptance processes that we know should be analysed and managed, but in many other contexts, user acceptance must not be taken for granted. The users must be ready for the new infrastructure, and that means that they must not only know about it, but about the benefits it entails for their work processes, the alignment with their own personal and organisational objectives and the motivation to learn to use, and effectively use them.

Only this way we will be able to quickly climb the productivity drop in the adaptation curve, and only this way we will be able to adapt the deliverables to what the organisation expect: actively managing both ends of the final acceptance bargain.


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