Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Little Bit of History Repeating

There’s a song titled ‘History Repeating’. It’s performed by Dame Shirley Bassey and the Propellerheads. As noted in the Wikipedia entry on the Propellerheads, “the term ‘propellerhead’ is slang for a nerd”. This will make sense to anyone who’s ever worked on any initiative involving technology. But it’s not the band name or even Dame Shirley Bassey that’s triggered this post; it’s the title of the song and in particular the chorus
and I've seen it before
and I'll see it again
yes I've seen it before
just little bits of history repeating

In our daily work as managers, leaders and change agents we must stop being surprised when we see and experience time and again the same underlying problems, issues, challenges (call them what you will) with projects and change initiatives. We’ve seen it all before and we’ll see it again, it’s just bits of history repeating.

As recent as this week I’ve heard of yet another ERP project that will be deployed globally mid-next year yet is already seriously impacted by too many chiefs, multiple sponsors, and people’s expectations of what’s likely to be delivered being light years apart. These are pretty common across projects. Here are some others that in themselves are bad enough but when combined cause immense amounts of frustration and finger pointing:
  • Abdication of responsibility and ownership.
  • Lack of willingness to deal with the elephant, make decisions and get on with it.
  • Too many project managers or worse still none with sufficient skill or practical real-world experience.
  • Focused on process compliance and managing the timeline instead of managing and delivering the project. 
  • Common sense is seriously lacking and poorly applied.
  • Politicking, agendas, positioning, and plain old manoeuvring tactics.
They make up a familiar story and frankly the story is now pretty boring. Yet history continues to repeat. Not only must we stop being surprised, we must start taking action to change the history that repeats. Move the focus from the negative (eg: overruns, disenfranchisement, problems, difficulty, challenges, barriers) to the positive (eg: proactive, assets, values, capability, improvement, doing what’s right, giving a damn).
Last month I wrote about the Executive Factor and in particular Executives who give a damn. Not only do these Execs allow and trust others to get on with the job at hand they are consistent, take risks and are willing to exercise their position of authority on behalf of the initiative. We need more Execs to actively lead and manage initiatives, especially for the hearts and minds of those involved and who are following their lead.
It’s not only top-down where change can be triggered. Project people and change agents, in fact anyone involved in delivering or impacted by the initiative can trigger and drive change bottom-up. These are the people on the ground that sees every day what's missing and what’s required of their leaders. It’s their responsibility to step up to the plate, show willingness and own doing what’s right. Ask for, perhaps even demand, a different form of leadership of their managerial and executive sponsors. Sitting back and waiting for someone else never achieved anything. By enabling their own success they enable the success of others, the initiative and the organisation. 
There is another critical area that must not be overlooked or underestimated. Educating people on their role and responsibilities for the particular initiative they’re involved with is fundamental to success. Does your Sponsor really get what being a Sponsor is all about? Do they understand the importance of the role and what they’ll be required to do while in it?  What about the Project Manager? The ‘Change Agent’? The ‘insert function title here’ team member? When roles, their purpose, scope and associated responsibilities are properly defined using language that’s clear, concise and avoid of buzzwords, those in the roles fully comprehend what’s required of them, how their role interacts with others, and where the buck stops. There’s a clear line of ownership and accountability. 
Through this, Execs who give a damn will know where they need to focus their energy and when: top-down. And those involved elsewhere will have clarity on the escalation path, decision making mechanisms and authority and know where they’re best able to inform and influence: bottom-up. These combined with a shift in attitude and behaviour will help shape a new way forward. 
Remove the negative and create yourselves a more positive history that’s worth repeating.

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