Normalizing Change - The Role of Project Managers

September 19, 2013 Workfront

A recent article entitled Entry, stabilization and renewal: the three phases of a new CIO published on Information Age had me drawing parallels to those that lead and manage projects. Particularly contract PPMs (Program and Project Managers not the certification) when getting to grips with a new project and organization.

Following is a summary of the phases as outlined in the article for a new CIO. I've added my own thinking about the parallels for a new PPM.

  • Get to know the business of the organization and objectives of top management
  • Meet, greet, interview and observe how the organization works
  • Get to know the business of the organization relevant to the project and objective of the sponsor / management
  • Meet, greet, interview and observe how the organization and project work together and separately
  • Focus on it delivering what's expected of it, i.e., supply
  • Build credibility
  • Identify key pain points for immediate effort and actively address them
  • Focus on project delivering what's expected of it, ie: scope
  • Build credibility
  • Identify and actively address key pain points for project and business
  • Help the business understand what's possible of it and how it can help the business achieve its aims
  • Help the business understand probable project outcomes and how project can help the business achieve the necessary change
Ultimate aim – Establish the person in the role as a respected leader

This post isn't a debate about the functions of the roles and whether one CIO or PPM's interpretation of these phases agrees with mine. No, the point I want to make is that the role of PPMs is much wider than managing the project they're assigned to. By managing, I mean applying those hard skills and practices we learn along the way or through classroom based teaching.

PPMs must be broader in their thinking, how they look at, analyze, and understand the challenges of the project and of the business. They must be able to facilitate and collaborate while at the same time move seamlessly between being flexible and taking a fixed position. Everything is influenced by the circumstances of the moment as well as the many strings that pull in every direction sometimes making the PPM feel like a marionette being forced to do a wild and crazy dance. Not a pretty sight.

Obviously people build up knowledge as they move through these phases familiarizing themselves with the project and organization. But more than that there's an opportunity here to influence change. Labeling the third phase ‘Normalize' has been done on purpose. PPMs need to normalize what's happening for those directly and indirectly involved because change is normal. It's everywhere, happening all the time. This isn't about doing the change management. It's about helping the business understand the probable outcomes of the project so it has context and awareness of the transition that must take place. This is a way of connecting the organization with the project, a way of bridging the chasm that so often exists between the two.

A project for project sake will not create any business value. Part of the PPM's role is to help deliver the value as outlined in the business case. But by taking the time to get to know the business, building credibility and being clear about what tomorrow's way of working is likely to be, PPMs can help the business see the changes they'll need to make in order to achieve the outcomes and value they're seeking.

How often as a PPM do you look beyond your project? Do you see normalizing the change your project will bring as something worth doing?

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