In my article this month I discussed tactics to assist you with strategy implementation by maintaining the proper culture. That article did not look at troubleshooting tactics, but I'm rectifying that here with several troubleshooting tactics that will help you take your career to the next level. You might want to check out the article first to make sure you get certain background information.
On to troubleshooting. Recall that in a project or program closely associated with strategy implementation, you as a project manager have a critical role in helping achieve the business strategy. That gives you a certain prestige, power, cache. Don't be afraid to use it. But use it wisely by taking careful steps.
Characterize identified obstacles to escalate properly
Suppose you identify an obstacle to implementing business strategy such low participation by one or more stakeholders. Is the cause simple overallocation or actually resistance to the strategy? Those are two very different situations. If you can, you need to know before you can effectively intervene.
Problems that stakeholders report that are from known competing priorities or reduced resources are common and can be handled through your typical risk and issue management. On the other hand, problems arising from certain "silos" that do not want to participate, require a different tactic.
What would be the cause of resistance to the business strategy? Some individuals, job roles, or departments can be affected negatively by the strategic plan being implemented. Jobs can be lowered in prestige, shifted around the organizational structure or even lost. Implementing business strategy is serious business. And you can represent danger as the project manager. Even if the fear or anxiety is unfounded resistance can still affect your "strategy" project and must be dealt with.
What might you hear from a stakeholder or partner if there is resistance to the business strategy? Hint: You will not hear "I disagree with the business strategy." But listen for phrasing like in these examples:
Or you may get a tip off from another stakeholder or sponsor that one or more stakeholders are known to be negatively affected by the strategic changes and then see actual resistance.
Intervene effectively for resistance to the strategy
Suppose that you have followed all these steps and identified and have evidence that a stakeholder Is not participating because of resistance to the strategy itself. In this case you must use a very specific type of intervention that is unlike the regular risk and issue management process you normally follow.
Projects implementing business strategy are not given to just any project manager. You have to be able to handle the basics without thinking too much because you are dealing with higher-level risks and stakeholders - and the stakes are greater. Succeed by using your understanding of business relationships and breaking down complex problems into step-by-step solutions.
This is the fourth post in a series related to Robotic Process Automation*, begun in association with PMI's Information Systems and Technology Symposium, June 14, 2017, where I presented Becoming an RPA-Ready Project Manager. You can filter posts in this blog to find all related to "RPA". You can also watch that presentation for PDU credit.
Without the right prepared resources during organizational change, frustration will be the order of the day. Deadlines will cause conflict. The much-touted vision will ring hollow. Success will be difficult.
In an initiative where organizational change is brought about by automation, including rolling RPA projects, resources have to be available at certain times to complete specific work. If they are not available, then the frustration spiral takes over. Examples below from such a hypothetical organizational change show how to identify and deal with resource problems and how to avoid errors managing resources over which you have control.
Organizational Change Effort Role: RPA Project Team Business Process Specialists
Potential Problem: You lead an RPA project that will be completed within a couple of months and representatives from the business that know the process to be automated are not available or not assigned near the point at which you are to start. This could be due to:
…or other reasons
What You Can Do as Project Manager: No matter what the reason that caused the problem,
Organizational Change Effort Role: Change Specialists
Potential Problem: Your project is dependent on a separate effort to communicate about the change in advance and to get general agreement with the vision but evidence you see does not indicate that the communication has occurred, or the vision has been accepted. This could be caused by:
…among other reasons.
The result is that certain project team members, partners, stakeholders are not hurrying to work with you. They do not know what your project is. Or they are avoiding your project.
What You Can Do as Project Manager: No matter what the reason that caused the bad communications, you must act when the environment is not conducive to success. In any organizational change effort,
There are many other roles in an RPA project, but the example of business process specialists is good to address because success of the project is mostly dependent on their availability. Likewise, there are many roles in a large organizational change effort, even one that is solely built around continuous automations. Change specialists are key to setting up a positive environment for you to manage your project. Unfortunately, you as a project manager have less authority to manage problems associated with roles outside the scope of your project. Still, your usual tactics of (a) direct communications with constructive problem-solving and (b) risk management are useful there as well. Using those tactics will make you a positive force against frustration in organizational change.
(If you are thinking that Resources needs certain skills for automation projects and organizational change then you are correct, but we will deal with the issue of skills in a future post.)
* Robotic Process Automation: Configuring a software robot, using one of the relatively new tools available, to complete a certain part of a work process formerly completed by FTEs. RPA is not Artificial Intelligence, but simply a way of automating the execution of well-defined business rules. Projects are short and bring quick benefits to the organization.
If you were to go back through postings on this blog over the many years that it has been in existence, you would find that many of the tips and tactics covered fall under the category of “ways to improve the work environment so that workers can do their best”. To be able to manage an environment is a high-leverage technique for a project manager. You would do well to identify and build as many skills in this area as you can.
Here’s one now!
A recent study helps you understand in a more sophisticated way how to interact so that you create a more productive environment for your project team.
Before getting into the details of the study and pulling out useful tactics for a project manager, it’s useful to ask yourself: Is it better for me to appear as competent or to appear as warm? You might think it is best to be both. You might think it is more important for you to appear competent because your team does not have to like you, they just have to respect your authority and ability.
There are certainly different ways to look at this and, of course, different project managers have different personalities. But if your objective is to create a productive workplace, it is important to strike the right balance in a given situation, to understand what behaviors create the environment where workers will thrive. This study helps you do that - with a little help from my tactics provided after the description of the study.
The study was supported by Carnegie Mellon University and led by Shereen J. Chaudhry, who was trying to determine how and why people use apologizing, thanking, bragging and blaming. The study used clever scenarios with winners and losers and researchers monitored what happened on live chats after the winner was revealed. Sometimes the environment and outcome was fixed to really test researcher's predictions. (Hard to tell whether that would have been fun or just a little creepy.) Researchers interviewed participants afterwards to gather more information.
The outcome of the study confirmed predictions and made additional discoveries, including:
You can employ certain tactics based on this information, such as
Managing the amount of thanking, apologizing, bragging and blaming turns out to be a powerful tool in your tool set.
Before hearing the results of the study, would you have anticipated that appearing warm was more important than appearing competent in such social interactions? Would you have managed these kinds of interactions as recommended above?
You may have heard, like I have, that openness can build trust. But what kind of openness exactly? Certainly, you can share "too much information" about yourself. You can share the wrong things. That would not help build trust necessarily. It may make things worse, in fact. And there is confidential information you are provided about a project that you cannot share.
So, the question remains, exactly what do you share to build trust with openness as a project manager? Paul Zak, the expert who studies these factors in the workplace and whom I mentioned in the last post on job crafting, has guidance for us.
The technique of openness is how you share information broadly throughout your team. Your actions should enable the project workforce to see that you are providing needed information in a timely fashion without being manipulative. Here are some ways to do this in your weekly team meetings or daily agile meetings.
You don't have to be a project manager too long to hear things like
These comments are signs that workers do not have a good reason to trust you and the process, and if they do not have trust they will not be engaged or able to participate fully and give a little extra when needed. They are headed for burnout.
When you don't check for useful information you leave out opportunities to build trust, and then you do not have trust when you need it. So, create your standard agenda or meeting preparation checklist to include sections on
You can think of your own ideas that fit in your situation.
When project team members understand that they are getting a broad communication of information, they have more trust in the work environment where they work. If we get this right, he explains that trust improves engagement and engagement improves performance in your project.
What has been your experience in work cultures where there is more openness or where information is more restricted?
This blog is about managing a project workforce. Stakeholders are not treated as a formal part of your project workforce, but maybe they should be at times.
When should you consider them as part of your workforce? When they have simple tasks that need to be completed. A common example is the project document approval task. (Simple? Maybe in theory!) This is where you run into delays.
Day 1 (Project Manager): "Please approve linked document in 10 days"
In project manager bars, where they drink the Release on the Rocks, this is a hot topic. How fast do you expect approvals in your organization? 3 days? 1 week? Two weeks? A month? I'm sure many of you Alert Readers have experienced extreme delays for approval at one point or another. If not, then you have just missed out on one of the fun times a project manager can have.
Here are some of the realities you must consider:
So it behooves us to come up with a list of tactics to avoid or handle this type of environment and the subgroup of stakeholders who do not approve in a timely fashion. Some of these you may think about doing but do not actually do.
Avoiding Delays Through Better Preparation
When you create your agendas for stakeholder meetings, be sure to explain:
Example: At the initial stakeholder meeting (or an early one), include bullets representing statements above and any related that are appropriate to your project.
Beyond the stakeholder meeting, there are other things you can do:
Work Planning for Better Preparation
What are some other techniques you use? Different environments need different tactics, so let me know what you have found successful. Do you have a problem with missing your chance to do these things and then having to suffer approval delays yet again?