Tough on change, tough on the causes of change

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Governance and change processes can often end up having the opposite affect to what was intended, stifling change, slowing projects down and increasing costs. But it always starts with the best intentions ...


Project spend is out of control, costs are spiralling and no one can tell the CEO how much money is being spent, or what it is being spent on. What you need is governance, and a process that allows projects to be authorised in an orderly way, drawing down from a planned budget so that costs can be controlled. Then you need a way to track the projects that have been approved, so that you can help out when they run in to difficulties; or stop them; or sack the project manager!

Before you know where you are, you have entry criteria, exit criteria, project boards, PMOs, and a centralised project list with spend and budget forecasts. You have been convinced that PRINCE II is the answer to everything. You have more information than you can shake a stick at: highlight reports, weekly reports, exception reports, executive summaries and dashboards. You know how many projects are red, and how many are amber (nobody cares about how many are green).  You know exactly what was spent (3 months ago) and you can now forecast next year’s spend with more certainty (you think).

But what does it all really tell you? Your projects are out of control, costs are spiralling and you are working your way through contract project managers like there’s no tomorrow. Not only that, the projects that you really need to get mobilised are stuck in endless approval channels that delay their start.
mind the requirements gap

To be honest, I haven’t found all of these symptoms in one place yet, but I have seen some organisations that get close! The issue is that when the process doesn’t solve the control problem, the tendency is to blame the process itself and add more to it; more criteria; more forms; more governance forums and more controls. This eventually leads to more effort being focused on the process than on managing delivery.

In this environment really good delivery specialists somehow manage to meet the needs of the process and still get things done. Good project managers may have some success. Less experienced project managers will spend all their time and energy on the process - making sure their milestones have the right wording, and that their highlight reports meet the house style and don’t attract undue attention. The upshot is that delivery almost always takes longer and costs more than it should do.

In some organisations, sadly, I’ve seen the project mangers appointed on their ability to understand and operate the project governance process. Disaster then ensues when, having successfully navigated the gateway process by completing all the right documents and having the perfect critical path highlighted in their plan, the project goes belly up in the delivery phase because the real issues have failed to be anticipated, managed and resolved.

And the funny thing is, that when change is recognised as being really critical for business success, all the process hoops that you usually need to jump through suddenly get bigger and lower, so you just sail through! Processes are ignored, execs pull rank to get things fast-tracked. Where there’s a will there’s a way!

So what is all that process for? Seems like it is there to manage all the things that don’t really matter that much – so why did you do them in the first place?

John Prideaux

Leading Digital Consulting at Wisereach

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