Executives say that their projects fail. They fail to meet objectives. They fail to meet timelines. They fail to meet budget constraints. But mostly, they say that projects fail to have a lasting impact on the organization. One of my clients said, “It’s like a bad meal at a restaurant a friend recommended. There’s lots of anticipation about trying something new, but when the meal is over, you wonder why you wasted your time.” Really? We feel like completing projects is wasting time?

The PMI conducted a study of project success that shows that less than two-thirds of projects meet their goals and business intent (success rates have been falling since 2008), and about 17 percent fail outright. Failed projects waste an organization’s money: for every US$1 billion spent on a failed project, US$135 million is lost forever… unrecoverable. And, the numbers haven’t changed that much in 15 years. Why?

The Gallup organization also conducted a study of project failure and found that controlling traditional elements of a project (quality control, scheduling, and budgeting) does not prevent project delays or failure. Project failure is attributed to one or more of the following causes:

  • Project management techniques
  • Project leadership
  • Scope management
  • Stakeholder management, or change management – including communication, employee involvement, executive buy-in, goal clarity

The Gallup study goes on to say that typical project management techniques such as quality control, budgeting, scheduling, and critical path analysis can solve the first three problems. These tools are less impressive for solving the last problem, primarily because they are less effective at managing the human, emotional, and social factors at play with individual stakeholders. Effective stakeholder change management is required to address these factors.

What is stakeholder change management? Let’s face it, the term “change management” is vague and can have many meanings. In this context, it means that for organizations to be successful with change two things must be in place: Appropriate behaviors and appropriate structure.

Generally, I think Change Management receives bad press because many executives think of it as the “soft, squishy stuff,” and don’t make time for it. It’s all about positioning and making it real and tangible. My formula focuses on both structure and behavior. You must have the right teams in place with the right accountabilities. You must have proper sponsorship aligned to the project. You must have people on the team who have been given the change project as a priority. These are all structural elements.

What about behaviors? There must be an inspiring vision to the change. There must be a message that resonates with the folks – one that catches their attention and helps them become more engaged. There must be trust on the project team with minimal in-fighting and political positioning, with the team focused on results. There must be personal accountability and commitment. These are just a few of the behavioral ingredients to a successful change project.

Ask yourself: does your project have these characteristics? Stay tuned to future blog posts to hear more detail about how I address both structure and behavior in a change project. In the mean time, drop me a note. I’d love to hear what you think of today’s blog post.

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