Seattle's Troubled Tunnel: 3 Communications Tips for Regaining the Public's Trust
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Categories: Best Practices, Change Management, Communication, Complexity, Ethics, Generational PM, Government, Human Aspects of PM, Leadership, Lessons Learned, PM & the Economy, PM Think About It, Program Management, Project Delivery, Project Failure, Project Planning, Social Responsibility, Stakeholder, Strategy, Teams
One of the biggest public works projects in the United States right now has some major problems. It’s a more than $3 billion effort in Seattle, Washington to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an aging elevated highway on the city’s waterfront, with a 2-mile-long tunnel. If you’ve been keeping an eye on the project, you know that the tunnel-boring machine (dubbed “Bertha”) broke down more than a year ago, creating various challenges and overruns. Public outcry is mounting.
Now, if you’re like me and believe in the power of communication to ensure that projects run more smoothly, the tunnel project has highlighted the need for more openness, better stakeholder management and speaking to your audience in understandable ways, instead of falling into buzzwords or corporate speak.
If I were working on the project right now, here are three things I would look at to regain the public’s trust and help everyone in Seattle and the state of Washington understand exactly where the project is.
1. Be willing to convey incomplete information. The project’s big challenge is that the machine built specifically for drilling the tunnel encountered a setback when it struck a metal pipe during the excavation process. Unfortunately, it took project leaders over a week to convey the extent of Bertha’s problem, the course of action and any sort of timeline to get things back on track. Since Bertha stopped working in December 2013, information has trickled out to stakeholders.
The project’s leaders could have set a much different tone early on by stating what they know and what it means to the project—along with an acknowledgement that they really aren’t 100 percent sure what the solution is, and a clear statement that they will work to provide status updates to all stakeholders as often as possible.
Instead, it’s been “hard to get straight answers,” as the Seattle radio station KUOW put it.
2. Be honest. This really goes hand in hand with the first point about having the confidence to convey information that is accurate, even if it is incomplete. The public has begun to doubt that project leaders are being honest about the tunnel’s current status and future. This is partly because when the city’s department of transportation (DOT) or the state government has updated the community about the project, they have given information that seems farfetched and is tough to believe in light of Bertha’s lack of progress.
Case in point: A DOT official recently toldSeattle’s City Council that the project was “70-percent complete.” That claim was met with a great deal of skepticism by journalists and members of the community.
The lesson for project managers is: Don’t fudge information to avoid blowback. In the long run, you are putting your project at a strategic disadvantage because you may lose funding or you may come under heavier oversight…or worse. So just explain things in an honest and forthcoming manner.
3. Be consistent in the delivery of information. A lack of consistent communications has been one of the big failings for the Seattle project team. And when there’s an information void, it will usually be filled by something you aren’t going to like. In this instance, the lack of communications has led to a real breakdown of trust.
That’s why you need to make a plan for communicating consistently with stakeholders. It should include the best ways to communicate with specific stakeholder groups, and a plan for gathering accurate, up-to-date information from the project team. To ensure timely gathering, build the consistent delivery of information into day-to-day project activities. Set a schedule of when you want your team members to communicate information to you, and hold them accountable.
In turn, you need to inform key stakeholders of when and how you’ll communicate information to them, and then stick to that plan.
In most cases, communications comes down to recognizing the importance of clarity in effective project leadership. In Seattle, you can see what a lack of a clear process can do to the trust between stakeholders and the project team. I’m confident that most unsuccessful projects began to unravel when communications stopped being clear and consistent.
What do you think?
By Kevin Korterud
To mark the new year, I decided to make a rather ambitious resolution: envision the future of project management offices (PMOs). Specifically, what PMOs will be like in the year 2025.
In retrospect, a New Year’s resolution to exercise more or take up a new hobby might have been easier. But here goes.
In 2015, PMOs of all types face a growing number of challenges. These include larger and more complex programs, workforces spread across different locations, time zones and cultures, integration needs and a shortage of skilled technologists. All of these trends will likely intensify in the next 10 years.
While there have been significant advances in the area of program delivery with agile methods, work planning tools and other enhancements, we need to rethink the function of the PMO with regard to its readiness to deal with a constantly changing and challenging business environment.
Here’s how I think PMOs could — and should — be functioning in 2025:
1. Mega PMO. Today all sorts of PMOs are spread across an organization: enterprise, business, program and transformation PMOs. Organizationally, these PMOs are typically fragmented across multiple business functions and governance structures. In addition, each PMO can operate independently of each other.
Given the complexity and scale of contemporary programs, this scenario has inherent risk from a delivery integration and coordination standpoint. For effective and safe delivery in the future, all PMOs need to be brought into a single organization and centralized command structure responsible for the oversight of all delivery programs.
This “Mega PMO” would go beyond the strategic roles played by Enterprise PMOs (EPMOs)—like portfolio management and benefits realization—to encompass tactical and operational services as well.
The level of integration on today’s delivery programs compels a move to this new PMO operating model.
2. Mega-PMO Partitioning. We must also address the strategic, tactical and operational needs of contemporary program delivery. This can come about by structuring the PMO of the future into functions that provide services and direction at all three of these levels.
For example, portfolio management, benefits realization and strategic planning would reside in a function that is staffed with highly skilled resources. Administrative and operational activities such as work plan updates, status report production and financial tracking would be in a service center function using resources with matching skills.
3. Unified Program Managers. It’s common today to have program managers embedded in various parts of an organization. While this results in program manager specialization, it does little to harmonize program management approaches and activities.
Just as program oversight would be brought into a single organization, so should the program managers overseeing program delivery. This would ensure both existing and new program managers collaborate and execute in a coordinated manner.
In addition, the centralization of program managers would also enable the development of program managers’ skills in ways that typically wouldn’t happen while embedded in a business function.
4. A Master Control Room. In a prior article, I mentioned the need for and benefits of a program control room. The creation of a single PMO compels the need for a centralized control venue to enable effective delivery oversight.
To manage the quantity, complexity and scale of future programs, this PMO master control room would need to resemble a control room in a manufacturing environment. This would include display screens, consistent representation of status, incident resolution rooms and other enabling technologies that drive effective program delivery.
This vision of the future aligns with the trends and trajectories of delivery programs. Not unlike how manufacturing, supply chain and other core business processes moved from craft to industrialized systems, the design and operation of PMOs need to change to support the delivery programs of tomorrow.
What do you think the future will hold for PMOs? I welcome your reactions!
By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP
As you reflect on 2014 and prepare for the New Year, consider these eight resolutions for your project portfolio in 2015.
1. Be a portfolio leader. Don’t just manage the portfolio — lead it by thinking in terms of profits and losses. In that sense, how does it compare to other portfolios or business units? What was your 2014 return on investment, and what is your 2015 estimated return? Is this within your organization’s expectations? What projects/programs were a drag and should be stopped? What projects/programs have the potential to generate the most returns and can be a calculated risk? (A calculated risk has a reasonable probability of generating a return; of course, what is “reasonable” depends on your organization’s risk appetite and threshold.) If you were an investor, would you invest in your portfolio? Asking these questions may help you decide what to do differently in 2015.
2. Accelerate the business. Ensure strategic alignment by thinking about your portfolio as dynamic and agile — an accelerator to business goals and objectives. How can you free up resources to innovate rather than just keep the lights on?
3. Sell your portfolio’s value by understanding your audience. Speak the organization’s language while remembering the 5 C’s: clear, concise, credible, creative and compelling:
Clear— Frame the discussion in terms the other party can easily relate to and understand.
Concise— Long decks and presentations will lose your audience. Think elevator speeches: If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s probably too complicated to understand. And if it’s too complicated, then you will not have the opportunity to influence, let alone reach agreement.
Credible— Know what you’re talking about and be prepared. This means doing your homework before coming to the table.
Creative— Look beyond the obvious to find the solution.
Compelling— Always know what’s important to the other party and what will drive them to action. Tease out the underlying need instead of only the stated desire. Understand what your bottom line is, and theirs.
4. Establish a culture of innovation. Do this, and you can deliver long-term as well as quick wins.
5. Make data-driven decisions.Look at the facts to drive decisions, not emotions. Don’t get attached to pet projects.
6. Engage with the world.Go beyond stakeholder engagement at work. Don’t forget about yourself, your home and your community.
7. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That little voice is an early indicator — listen to it. Sometimes when we forge ahead against our instincts, we find out later that it would have been better to take another course.
8. Find meaning in your portfolio. Your portfolio delivers the impossible — innovative projects and programs that have not been done before. What achievements in the past year were key to the organization, in terms of values, culture and feeding creative juices? How can you do more of that in 2015?
The new Knowledge Area, stakeholder management, was cheerfully welcomed in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition.
Figure 1: Lack of stakeholder management leads to poor results. (Trentim, 2013)
Most of us rely on soft skills, communication and leadership to manage stakeholders. But while they’re helpful, interpersonal skills are far from being the sole way to implement stakeholder management. As a matter of fact, there are hard skills in stakeholder management — tools, techniques and methods that should be diligently applied to enhance stakeholder management and improve project success rates.
For example, there are at least 10 different tools for stakeholder identification. Often, project managers rely only on brainstorming to write a stakeholder registry, conforming to the methodology imposed by a project management office (PMO). That’s why I believe we need a paradigm shift.
A project manager’s goal is to add value. Value depends on stakeholder expectations and perception. Consequently, the project manager’s goal is to engage and involve stakeholders in value creation. This is what we call managing for stakeholders.
On the contrary, the term stakeholder management assumes we can manage expectations. This is wrong. We cannot manage people, to paraphrase U.S. author and businessman Stephen Covey. We lead people. We persuade and influence stakeholders.
In 2013, the Project Management Institute published my book, Managing Stakeholders as Clients. It presents a framework with a paradigm shift from traditional stakeholder management by first setting the premise that we can’t manage stakeholders or their expectations — we can only lead, influence and persuade people. To my surprise, I was the recipient of PMI Educational Foundation’s 2014 Kerzner Award* at PMI® Global Congress 2014—North Americafor my results in managing projects and programs. But in particular, the award recognized my creation of this stakeholder management framework and the results of its application.
The main difference between stakeholder management and managing for stakeholders is this: Stakeholder management’s goal is to manage stakeholders’ expectations, enhancing support and reducing negative impacts — a reactive measure. It’s almost as if project managers develop stakeholder management plans to protect themselves from external interference.
Managing for stakeholders means involving and engaging stakeholders in value creation, boosting their support and having them take ownership in a proactive way. Managing for stakeholders embraces change as a learning process.
While stakeholder management is instrumental, employing processes for conformity, managing for stakeholders is results-oriented. In summary, stakeholder management is an attempt to manage stakeholders’ expectations toward the project. On the other hand, managing for stakeholders is clearly oriented to manage the project and its results for the stakeholders, on behalf of their changing needs and expectations.
Now that it’s clear we should start approaching stakeholder management from a different perspective, in my next post I’ll share more tips and details from Managing Stakeholders as Clients. Don’t miss it!
How do you manage for stakeholders?
*The PMI Educational Foundationadministers the prestigious Kerzner Award. The Kerzner Award is sponsored by International Institute for Learning, Inc. (IIL)to recognize a project manager who most emulates the professional dedication and excellence of Dr. Harold Kerzner, PhD, MS, MBA.
Photo: Courtesy of tequilamike
Have you ever seen the award-winning movie Rush? In it, Austrian Niki Lauda, Formula One World Champion racing driver, lectured fellow competitor from England, James Hunt, on risk management. Mr. Lauda states that he manages to a risk factor of 20 percent; any conditions that produced risk over this factor could lead to a deadly accident. At the last race of the season, Mr. Lauda pulls over in a rainstorm as he feels there is too much risk. While this action hands the top prize to Mr. Hunt, Mr. Lauda is unrepentant in his action to pull off the road. He goes on to win more racing world championships than Mr. Hunt.
Projects are like racecars -- both are complicated and exist in environments where there are many moving parts. That's why, as with a race, knowing when to put the brakes on a project will be best in the long-run. Here are four warning signs that you need to pull over:
We are typically judged by the amount of progress we make as well as the outcomes from our projects. But we should also be judged on our ability to cease projects when the level of risk is too high. Although it might seem like a sign of weakness, stopping and re-directing a project incurring too much risk can reduce the potential overall cost and preserve its value proposition.
Under what conditions have you had to stop a project due to too much risk?