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Project Management Gets Lean

IT can't afford to do projects the old way. Lean project management gives a better picture of success or failure.

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This, friends, is the reason customers feel as if project management isn't helping them. Maybe the solution is more and more status meetings, but we doubt it. Look at it this way: You're moving cheese every time you embark on a significant business technology project. You're changing the way people do their jobs. But if IT is inflicting the project on other parts of the business, if business units aren't all "hurry up and get it done--this is awesome," you're doing it all wrong.

Alex Adamopoulos, CEO of project portfolio management consulting firm Emergn, tells the story of a large logistics client. "There is no longer such a thing as 'the business' and 'IT,'" Adamopoulos says. "It's one organism."

The logistics company had decided that the various bureaucratic gateways and checkpoints of conventional project management were slowing it down. So it blended responsibilities for business technology projects with the idea that it could either execute quickly or quickly decide to kill the project if it wasn't well conceived--before it's so far down the life cycle that the money has been spent. Adamopoulos says the company has saved millions by failing fast.

His challenge to PMOs: "Pick a project type that you're struggling with. Run it through the lean model, and compare the results. It will be dramatic."

Now for the elephant in the room. We think it's time for PMOs to start admitting that while projects are about executing tasks, managing risks, monitoring budgets, and updating statuses, that list should also include managing organizational change. Much has been written about why projects fail, but the underlying cause can, in many cases, be simplified to a resistance to change.

The official-sounding moniker "organizational change" boils down to "how people feel," which will send many technical and process-oriented staffers fleeing from the room, or at least snickering when nobody's around.

Mary Lynn Manns, author of Fearless Change, a prescriptive handbook on organizational change, says that people who are behind business process change tend to document business processes very well. They think their well-researched and well-written documents will be the magic bullet that will get change done.


Any process change is about folks letting go of the old ways, Manns says. Unfortunately, champions of process change often fail to realize that there's a reason people are tied to the old way of doing things: They do it every day. There's a personal connection and investment.

Letting go can create something very much like a grieving process: anger, disorientation, confusion, sadness, even a little depression, because people are no longer as good at their jobs as they used to be.

A standard project process includes business leaders at every step, identifies why the project is needed by the company, sets clear goals, and initiates controlling processes for budget and tasks. That's all good, but it's not enough.

For the project to truly get traction with the constituents who matter--the people who will be changing their way of doing things--all those goopy feelings have to be taken into account. Saying, "This is what's good for the organization" without also saying what's good for the people doesn't convince people to change, Manns says.

Does your company have a project management office?

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