Corporate Culture and it Role In Project Failure
In many years of recovering failing projects, I have found a few management actions whose rationale seem completely absurd. Regardless of my efforts, I am unable to understand or dissuade them from their decisions. These decisions either precipitate the failure or greatly exacerbate the project's dilemma. Regardless, due to management's level of shear desperation, they can only be classified as stupid decisions. If there were the Darwin awards for management, these would qualify.
From years of experience in recovering red projects, I estimate that only a third of all problems that affect red projects are actually on the project; the other two-thirds are in the surrounding organizations. Poor policies and procedures or lack of commitment by the customer, vendor, integrator, or organization overshadows problems on the project. Unfortunately, project managers do not have the authority, or even the influence, to address these issues. Their only course of action to complete the project successfully is to band-aid the problem. This must change if companies are going to quickly and accurately implement business initiatives.
Reading an article the other day, the author was lamenting on how Project Managers were under educated and needed to know more about earned values analysis, risk probability determination, finite schedule development and other tools that make a Project Manager great. She was arguing that certifications, like PMI's PMP® certification, needed to have more testing on those subjects.
Recently, I surveyed a dozen or so students at three Portland area universities. Three-quarters of them replied. An adequate response, since the questions were open-ended, requiring a written answer. The students were all business majors and a majority of them in Management Information Systems (MIS). Although anonymous, I knew the group of northwest students well enough that the optimistic, upbeat tone of the responses were no wonder. The surprise was what was missing.
Months ago, maybe over a year, now, I was blasted for talking about innovation in the context of information technology (IT) projects. The gist of the complaint was that all IT folks think they are building some new groundbreaking, revolutionary application that requires the latest in technology's tools. I agreed with his argument, qualifying that although this seems to be a pervasive theme, IT is a discipline that needs to keep one-foot in the pioneering frontier. Regardless, I had to concede that many innovative initiatives are more about a technician playing with some new toy. Jobs like implementing ERP interfaces to manufacturing execution systems (MES) only sound new. Unfortunately, I must say, "been there done that." Most IT is neither new of innovative. To avoid squandering funds, executives must understand and direct what needs to be innovative and permeate the company's culture with that knowledge. Otherwise, the wasted time and expense will suck a company dry.
Leaders make decisions. This requires a core set of actions to gather the best information, hear out the concerns of others, and making a decision that everyone will follow—even if there is not unanimous agreement with the decision. Although there are hundreds of actions leaders must take, there are four core actions that all great leaders do—listening, dialog and discussion, selling a vision, and eliminating blame. This session will discuss those actions in a roundtable format that we call a "What Would You Do?" session. In these sessions, the presenter acts as a moderator spending 10 to 15 minutes per topic working with the audience talking about what the action is, how to best do it, and hearing from the group on how they have carried out the action. This brings significant audience interaction, involvement, and broader education.
Friday brought news of another company outsourcing part of their IT. The details are sketchy, but it appears that all the COBOL programmers (many counting days until retirement) are going to have their jobs moved half way around the world. Soon after, it sounds like the IT infrastructure and operations will follow. Friends lamented about more jobs going overseas. I had to ask what other options management had. I did not hear any alternatives.
To the dismay of my cohorts and their potential pink slips, I am less concerned about outsourcing the administration of servers, networks, and base applications. For most companies, those are not the systems unique to their mission. These days, those functions are utilities. However, outsourcing customized systems that are at the heart of how a company does its business and distinguishes itself to its customer, is very risky. It may be the only option now; however, it could have been avoided.
The other day a Latvian student contacted me for my views the connection between culture and success criteria—an important and intriguing topic. After working in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Israel, United States, and Canada, I wear many scars of both blatant and subtle cultural violations. I also know that within a culture one person's success is often another person's failure. So, after dispelling concerns about clicking on some random email link, I completed her survey (please feel free to take it yourself). In the process, I struck up a friendship with the student, Kristine Briežkalne, who is studying at Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration . She has some interesting views and presented me with a Venn diagram showing four frames to a project (business, client, project management, and growth perspectives) and how they intersected. As the diagram is part of her Master's thesis, I will let you ponder the how to label the overlapping areas (an eye-opening exercise).
A couple Friday's ago, I was in a meeting and I reiterated my mantra, "Process stifles creativity." A friend, well, I think she still is, nearly jumped out of her chair. "I need to correct you," she barked, "Only poorly implemented process stifle creativity." The suddenness and passion in her response caused the gentleman sitting between us to slide his chair back quickly in order to avoid being tangled in any physical altercation. The room was full of jeers for us to settle the dispute in the parking lot. Realizing I had just stepped in a hornet's nest, I made a joke of it. However, her attack does not dissuade me.
Projects build capabilities to met corporate goals. If you are a CEO, you need to make sure your employees and vendors know what those goals are and how they fit in to the plan. If you are a project manager, you need to know the bounds of you project. If you are anywhere in between, you need to understand how all the pieces fit together and keep it all aligned.
Most organizations consist of multiple business and support units, each populated by highly trained, experienced executives. But often the efforts of individual units are not coordinated, resulting in conflicts, lost opportunities, and diminished performance.