Seattle's Troubled Tunnel: 3 Communications Tips for Regaining the Public's Trust
Human Aspects of PM,
PM & the Economy,
PM Think About It,
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 Lynda Bourne
The start of a new year always brings a focus on change and opportunity. So with 2015 now underway, it’s timely to ask: What are the responsibilities of the project manager when it comes to dealing with change?
The answer depends on what aspect of change you’re dealing with and what stage of the project you’re in.
All projects are initiated to instigate change — to create a new product, service or result. If the project is to realize its intended value, the change has to meet a need within the stakeholder community.
Determining this need is primarily the responsibility of the project sponsor and the change manager. The only responsibility of project managers at this stage of the project life cycle is to understand exactly what they are being asked to deliver and to highlight any omissions or issues to the sponsor.
The next step is traditional change management, which involves preparing the affected stakeholders for the new product, service or process, fostering a desire to use it once delivered and supporting the transition from the old way of working to the new way so the intended benefits can be realized on a sustained basis.
This step will be the responsibility of the change manager; organizational change management requires a separate set of skills to project management and on anything other than a relatively small change initiative involves a significant commitment of time. If the project manager is expected to fulfil the change management role, the project charter and resourcing need to allow for this additional work. More often, the change manager is part of an overall program of work, or may work for the sponsor.
In my experience it is very unusual for the project manager to work for a change manager or a change manager to work for a project manager. However, if the organization is going to realize the maximum benefits from the project, the change manager and project manager need to be highly supportive of each other’s work and their responsibility for benefits management and realisation need to be clearly understood.
The responsibility of the project manager through the life of the project is to be aware of the needs of the change manager and adapt the work of the project to maximize the opportunity to realize benefits.
While many aspects of change management are outside of the project manager’s responsibilities, project change control is not.The project manager typically does not have the authority to approve most changes, but managing the project change control process is his or her job.
The project manager, supported by the project team, is responsible for the following:
The connection between change management and change control is that every change that is managed through project change control processes affects some aspect of the project’s outputs. Therefore each change should be considered from the perspective of stakeholder needs and the overall realization of benefits through the organization’s change management processes and ultimate use of the project’s deliverables.
Managing the project life cycle from idea creation to benefits realization is increasingly being referred to as “the management of projects.” The difficult bit in the middle of actually creating the project deliverables is “project management.”
To successfully implement change and maximize value realized by the organization, both “the management of projects” and “project management” need to be synchronized.
In my experience, project managers must accept change management disciplines as part of their project management plans in order to reduce the risk of an initiative failing. And in recent posts, I've discussed how:
In this post, I'll discuss how project managers have an opportunity to make a long-lasting impact on an organization by indicating where change disciplines integrate with project management. That's because the keys to successful change management lie in the project management process groups. By leveraging the project management processes and activities across the project life cycle, we can build in and ultimately sustain change. Here are 10 ways to address change in your project management plan:
As a management consultant, I used this checklist of tips to help me move from strategic planning to tactical implementation to sustainable operations. For example, I once had a client organization that deployed a new service management provider to improve its delivery and cost of IT operations. As the client introduced the new provider, the service delivery measures were not improving and were starting to miss the ROI expectations of the business case.
I was hired to review the business processes that underpinned IT service delivery, and develop an improvement plan to restore the service delivery organization and meet the business case expectations. I started by conducting a prime value chain analysis and conducted stakeholder reviews to gather requirements. Based on my evaluation of best practices and the activities that hurt service delivery, I developed an initial management improvement plan. This plan was based on process reengineering, redeploying resources and reorganizing governance.
During the implementation planning, I used every one of the steps above to ensure I was leading through the change, engaging stakeholders and staff while ensuring the organization would be able to sustain the new ways of working after my assignment ended.
Which of the above steps do you find most valuable in ensuring sustained change?
For more on change management, purchase PMI's Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide.
To implement a successful change initiative, you must first create the desire for change within the affected stakeholder community. If stakeholders believe the message being communicated, the way they react and feel changes in response.
Research in Australia, New Zealand and the United States has consistently demonstrated physical changes in people based on what they've been told. Studies report people Down Under and in Canada who are told wind turbines cause health problems actually experience health problems. Similarly, in a 2007 study, Harvard researchers told some female hotel employees that their usual duties met the U.S. Surgeon General's recommendations for an exercise regimen. Four weeks later, the researchers found improvements in blood pressure, body mass index and other health indices among the informed group compared to a control group of attendants who hadn't been so informed.
What this suggests is the conversations around your change initiative will have a direct effect on how people experience the change. Gossip and scaremongering will cause bad reactions; positive news creates positive experiences.
To drive success, you need to make the right conversations. Some strategies to help include:
Expectations tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. You need to communicate the expected change your project is creating will be beneficial and good for the majority of the stakeholders. If this message is both true and believed (the two elements are not automatically connected), the experience of the stakeholders is more likely to be positive.
Communication often can mean the difference between project success and failure. A 2013 PMI Pulse of the Professionâ„¢ in-depth report shows that executives and project managers around the world agree that poor communication contributes to project failure. Of the two in five projects that fail to meet original goals, one of the two do so because of ineffective communications. The study also reveals that effective communication is a critical factor in creating success.
Given the stakes, it's time to ask: How much positive communication do you do each day?
In recent posts, I've discussed how project managers can become agents of change, and how managing change can drive their organization's business goals. In this post, I'll focus on the external events that can affect business -- and how project practitioners can help their organizations derive value from these changes.
Over the years, I have witnessed organizations incorporate external forces, such as fluctuating market conditions or the advent of new technology, into their business planning process to much success.
A few years ago, I was part of a project team that helped harness external change. I was employed at an organization at the top of its industry, but one that was also facing shifting customer demands across its portfolio of products. The organization had to consider how to meet the demand changes, increase revenue and address the variability of the business plans.
The organization defined a new strategy that would allow us to weather economic headwinds, advance our value creation by integrating new products and services, and increase shareholder value. That strategy relied heavily on investing in a multi-year journey to execute mergers and acquisitions. And to succeed in this strategy, we needed to adapt internally to incorporate newly acquired companies into our operations.
That led to the creation of a Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) integration team, and I was invited to participate in building up this capability. Management selected a core project team that included high performers, particularly those who demonstrated strong IT skills and solid project management experience.
Right from the beginning, our core project team focused on setting clear goals, based on how we would provide benefits to our organization's customers -- and shift the market demands back to our favor. We drove several goals-setting sessions to establish a project timeline and identify opportunities for synergy savings (syncing expenditures to reduce administrative costs).
Then, we selected the rest of the M&A integration team members -- mostly various subject matter experts and business analysts who were well versed in project and change management. This helped us deliver multibillion-dollar integration on time and closely aligned to strategy. We were able to do so because of our team members' clear roles and expertise, but particularly because of these standout team characteristics:
Over the next three years, this same project team was called upon to develop knowledge and competence in the area of internal change. My organization dedicated a small M&A office to develop integration tools and codify our knowledge. We were even asked to continue to work together to build on the initial strategic goal: to help the company maintain its leadership position in the industry. That required us to support post-merger integrations by leading work streams and mentoring junior teams. Our competence increased in managing people across matrix teams, and the use of change management prepared us to lead and sustain other major initiatives of the organization.
How do you identify external change and help turn it to your organization's advantage? For more on change management, download PMI's Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide, currently available for free download for a limited time only. Explore PMI's Change Management Resources.