Organizations are ramping up investment in AI, data and analytics initiatives to accelerate business agility, but a vast majority of them are struggling with business transformation in general, and cultural challenges are by far their biggest obstacle to adoption. Those are key conclusions from the 2019 New Vantage Partners Big Data and AI Executive survey.
In the survey, executives from Fortune 1000 companies cited multiple factors impeding their transformation efforts, including organizational alignment, agility and resistance. The common denominator? A whopping 95 percent of their issues stemmed from cultural challenges! Only 5 percent related to technology.
"If companies hope to transform, they must begin to address the cultural obstacles," the report states. And later it concludes, "Firms need to adopt a long-term approach, focusing on the complex cultural challenges as a starting point."
It's a brand new report but its findings are not news — not to people who have been managing strategic projects for a while. Organizations don't want to get left behind in the rush to leverage emerging technologies to execute strategy, deliver value and stay relevant. But the technology can't get ahead of the culture. And that's an old, stubborn truth that can't be automated or analyzed away.
How can companies address these cultural challenges to transformation and strategic implementation?
According to the report, while 92 percent of the companies highlighted the “need for agility” as the primary driver of Big Data/AI investment, 40 percent of these same companies identified “lack of agility” as the principle challenge to business adoption.
So they have to be more agile in their journey to agility? That might remind some of the classic "chicken or the egg" question. But for this dilemma, we know which comes first. Culture.
Project-driven organizations can't fix their culture without meaningful change in how their project teams operate. That starts with a commitment to collaboration, to learning, to autonomy, to trust.
Easier said than done? Of course. There is no simple template to follow or process to plug in. Organizations need people (and not just executives) who acknowledge the issues holding them back; who advocate for the needed changes; who represent the desired future in their day-to-day actions. When they get enough of those people, the culture is already changing for the better. Perhaps you're one of those people!
Flip a coin. Every other Fortune 500 companies from the year 2000 is now extinct. That's right — 52 percent of the Fortune 500 at the turn of the century is out of business today!
"It used to be enough to get customers to just buy things that you were selling. Now, you need customers who buy in to your company as a whole,” says Ryan Berman, author of Return On Courage. “Values-based, socially responsible, and purpose-driven companies are the ones that are winning today’s business game.”
In his book, Berman presents a business model for what he calls "courageous change." He wants organizations, teams and individuals to take thoughtful, calculated risks, whether it’s about developing a new product, implementing an innovative strategy, or simply voicing an opinion that upsets the status quo.
Berman’s five-step process, called P.R.I.C.E., is based on his experiences advising prominent brands such as Major League Baseball, PUMA and Subway, as well as interviews with leaders from Apple, Google, Dominos, Zappos and other successful companies. Berman discusses the reasoning behind each step and provides detailed worksheets to help readers implement the process. The process includes:
> Prioritize Through Values – Leaders must modernize, prioritize and then utilize their core values as critical decision-making filters for their organizations. Then they must strive to embody those select values into everything they do as a leader, team and company.
> Rally Believers – Leaders who cheerlead to their staff are not effective. Instead try Believership. The purpose of a Believership is to create Believers out of a company’s employees, prospects and customers. They may deliver bad news from time to time, but they always put the business first and prioritize what the company needs, even when it’s difficult.
> Identify Fears – This audit of fear is a more up-to-date, effective way to perform a SWOT analysis. Successful businesses proactively smoke out and address their biggest fears instead of suppressing them. By identifying fears — industry fears, product fears, service fears, and perception fears — companies begin the process of conquering their most complicated problems. They are able to drum up courageous solutions that shrink down these difficult, progress-halting hurdles.
> Commit To A Purpose – A powerful purpose is more than just words. Having an authentic cause drives conviction and keeps people motivated to come to work, even on tough days. True purpose becomes ingrained in the company culture; without it, turnover problems arise. Injecting a “rally-cry-in-your-why” also permeates outside the walls of the organization to transform one-time buyers into raving fans.
> Execute Your Action – Without taking action, companies are merely stuck in paralysis. When it’s time to innovate, courageous companies know how to “cover and move.” They “cover” their current products while they work to “move” toward their next revenue stream or innovation. And they get their most meaningful messages into the hands of advocates by utilizing the 4 P’s – Passion, Precision, Promoters, and a Point of View.
Berman makes a compelling case that courage does not need to be impulsive or excessively risky. He demonstrates, instead, that courage is a necessity in today’s constantly changing, highly competitive business environment. Leaders, project managers and teams must welcome change and make courage part of their daily activities.
That's a great idea! Um ... how are we going to do it? Innovative thinking is a wonderful asset to any organization, one that should be encouraged and supported. But it's more wonderful when the great ideas get translated into tangible value.
The fact is, most cool concepts quickly go cold for want of the ways and means to execute them. All those dirty details that turn vision into reality, strategy into results — that's where project leadership comes in. But unfortunately, that's also where it often exits.
Yes, most organizations realize the importance of strong project management practices. And many have invested in project management offices, tools and training. Still, many of these same organizations see project after project continue to veer off track. Sure, some goals are achieved, but others aren't. Savings are realized here, but how much is wasted there? What's the problem, who's to blame? After all, the strategy was sound, the idea was great. It had to be poor execution that caused the project to come up short!
But time and again, it is not poor execution that is the cause of project failure. It’s not misguided strategy, either. It is the separation of strategy from execution that remains the great operational divide in the business world. This missing link leaves us spinning our competitive wheels, while frustrating the very people — the project managers and teams members — who are expected to deliver the results.
And barring extreme good fortune or superhuman efforts, projects will continue to fail until the strategic planning and the project managing are meaningfully integrated.
It isn't easy. Project teams — agile, traditional or hybrid — still operate in a vacuum all too often. Individuals focus on their own challenges and deadlines, not the big-picture vision or bold idea. And why would they if they don't participate in the development — or at the very least, the validation and refinement — of those ideas? No, if they're only asked to get things done, then only "things" will get done.
Project managers can't single-handedly bridge the disconnect caused by hierarchal power-hoarding; it’s embedded in many corporate cultures. But you don't have to be helpless victims. There are ways to get on the executive radar, and they don't all require becoming a radical outcast. In preparing your next progress report, take a second look to see if you are solely addressing your issues (however valid they may be), but not the issues keeping your bosses awake at night. Talk up customer value and financial metrics, then reframe them in terms that relate to your team's day-to-day reality.
Sure, project management is about getting things done on time, on budget and to scope. But it should be about one more thing: context. You and your team live that context as much as any executive does — often more so.
Companies will not succeed without engaged, motivated project teams — and that starts with the project leader — the living, breathing link between innovation and value, strategy and execution.
Not too long ago, it seemed that you couldn't read two articles on project management without one of them citing the purported failure rate of projects. Was it 50 percent? 80?! Some sort of "objective criteria" defined the failures in these studies — a certain number of days past deadline or a percentage over budget, for example.
You don't see those doomsday leads as often these days, and their validity was always a matter of debate. Definitions of success or failure aren't so neatly tied to simple metrics that don't take into account the many ways an initiative can deliver value. Of course, that's where self-appointed experts, consultants and vendors make a good living, offering their solution to your project management problem.
But forget failure rates and packaged solutions for a minute. You know, the world's best baseball players walk back to the dugout having failed almost 70 percent of the time. And they don't throw away their equipment or change their technique each time. They've accepted the reality of their enterprise: small, spinning objects traveling more than 90 miles per hour are very difficult to hit.
To continue the analogy, project teams get thrown a lot of curves, from before the project even starts (unrealistic estimates) through the heat of battle (missing-in-action sponsors, conflicting directives, competing resources) to an often-hazy closeout (if they get there). Under these conditions, homeruns are hard to come by. A few bad-hop singles might even be deserving of celebration — and certainly not evidence of complete failure.
My point, of course, is not to say that late or over-budget projects should be accepted as inevitable by organizations. But it is more constructive to re-focus the failure conversation. No methodology or technology solution can wish project success into reality — unless it begins with people.
I've never interviewed a process. However, I have chatted with thousands of project leaders and team members over the years. And many of them confirm that their organizations are striking out on a consistent basis.
But the root cause of these failures does not necessarily map out directly to the particular method or tools their organizations employ. No, the problem is more often the dangerous disconnect between the organization's strategic goals and how those goals are — or aren't — translated into action.
The project teams know it and hate it, but they don't feel like they can do much about it. The customers sense it, and they're ready to do something about it, sooner or later. The senior managers know it, and they're doing everything they can to deflect it. And what of the top-level executives — the leadership? Well, too often, they're still waiting to be told about it, so they can hire an outside consultant, who may or may not get around to talking to the project team, to fix it.
If that sounds like sour grapes, or cynicism from the trenches, so be it. Perception becomes reality. And the truth bears repeating, again and again, until someone at the top hears it and believes it:
Processes don't perform projects; people do. Until people drive the processes, and not the other way around, there will continue to be unrest in the trenches — along with "experts" who make a good living citing the project failure rate, whatever it is.
Accidents Will Happen
Categories: career development
The professionalization of project management has long been established. More important, the value of project management skills has been widely accepted. Case in point: research consistently shows that PMPs enjoy higher salaries and ever-expanding opportunities in the fast-evolving digital economy.
Still, there remains a vast population of "accidental project managers" — individuals who were tapped on the shoulder one day and charged with managing a project along with the day job.
Lately, though, I hear as much about CAPMs (Certified Associate in Project Management) as APMs (accidental project managers), and that's a great development. New project managers have some very helpful resources and networks to tap into these days, starting right here on ProjectManagement.com.
But let's face it: many individuals cast in the role of unofficial or temporary project manager view it, quite reasonably, as an unwelcome burden at best and a lose-lose situation at worst. If that's how you feel, perhaps you're operating on the perimeter of your comfort zone, if not completely outside it.
Consider this though: maybe the job of project manager chose you. Maybe this new, scary responsibility is an opportunity, a tough but exciting challenge with potential long-term career rewards.
Hopefully, you were chosen to oversee a project for a reason, be it technical experience or familiarity with a similar effort. If your comfort zone happens to be rolling up your sleeves and "just doing it" — all else be damned — then no one can realistically expect you to become a master of motivating other people overnight. If, instead, you were tapped on the shoulder because you have an ability to inspire and work with people but don't know what P-M-B-O-K stands for, then you can't be asked to invent, much less implement, a new five-stage lifecycle to save the day.
And there are dozens of other mismatched skill-set scenarios that can intimidate or ambush even the most enthusiastic project managers.
Still, if you are in a situation where you've been asked to manage a project without so much as an introductory course on risk or a used copy of Project Management for Dummies, take comfort. There are thousands of project managers with advanced degrees and 20 years in the trenches who will tell you a little secret: they sometimes have to wing it, too.
And though seasoned project managers have had career-enhancing successes and been able to replicate them with strong practices and lessons learned, they also have suffered failures — failures that could be attributed to lack of support, unrealistic scope, or just plain bad luck. But they keep learning. And adapting. And growing.
Hey, accidents happen. Welcome to the profession.