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Wednesday
May302012

Developing a Collaborative Approach to Improving Project Management Practices, Part 1: Culture

By Dennis D. McDonald

For a .pdf version of this article click or tap the above image.In Agile grows up and new challenges emerge author Rick Freedman points out what project managers, sooner or later, learn from the School of Hard Knocks: changing and improving project management practices to improve the likelihood of project success involves not just improved management methods but also cultural changes within the sponsoring organization. 

Doing project work more/better/faster doesn’t help if the organization still imposes traditional top-down management approaches that involve tossing requirements and reporting practices “over the wall” to the project team in a low-engagement fashion.

In  his article Freedman interprets the discussions he heard at a recent Agile conference as evidence that the Agile approach to project management is graduating from a tactical to a strategic perspective. I have found that what he says about Agile is also true of project management in general:


This change in emphasis [from tactical to strategic] presents the agile community, and the enterprises we serve, with a new set of challenges that cut to the core of the values, beliefs, and cultures of our stakeholders. In order to contribute to the evolution of our clients or stakeholders, we must elevate our sights from the tactical to the strategic, and from the methodological to the cultural. In fact, one of the key insights from my conversations with agile enterprises and their advisors is that organizations that focus solely on the methodological, and neglect the cultural and strategic, are the most likely to fail at agile transition.

I’ve certainly found this to be true in the research I’m doing right now with Michael Kaplan on development of consulting services that complement the SoftPMO Project Management Toolkit.

At its core the Toolkit consists of an online Guidebook that provides an overview of typical project management steps, accompanied by a cross-referenced set of 46 project management process templates.

What we’re finding as we talk with project management professionals is that the challenge of adoption is universally seen as difficult to overcome. Selling access to documents about project management “best practices”  is not enough. People need help with implementing the concepts and ideas provided by the Toolkit in the real world.

This is generally recognized as meaning that changes are needed in the organization in order to take full advantage of changes in project management practices. Several time I’ve heard people say that improving project management processes in the organization runs up against the existing “culture.”

This is similar to what Freedman is saying in his article. But let’s dig a little deeper. What does “changing the culture” really mean? Isn’t it just the same as saying, “People don’t like to change,” or, “There’s no way we can overcome our bureaucracy here”?

I think the old “resistance to change due to corporate culture” argument is simplistic. I’ve been through enough technology adoption projects over the past several years to have learned the following:

  • Focusing only on developing and installing the technology and not also on the processes that are influenced by the technology leads to project failure.
  • When people personally recognize the advantages to them of changing, they are more likely to change.

What does applying these ideas to adopting improved project management processes suggest about how we go about developing “wraparound” consulting services for the SoftPMO Toolkit?

Well, we’re still working on that; I hope to publish more here and on Google+ soon.

Currently I think the answer has to do with enabling improvements in project management processes through direct user involvement coupled with improved communication and collaboration. For now, here are some references to articles from this blog that relate to these questions:

Copyright (c) 2012 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Contact Dennis in Alexandria, Virginia via email at ddmcd@yahoo.com or by telephone at 703-402-7382.

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