What are the factors at play that project managers and teams need to be mindful of when delivering business change alongside technical delivery?
Without doubt one of the most difficult aspects for any project to consistently get right is how to embed a technical solution successfully into the business. Exceptional technical delivery by itself is no guarantee of project success if it is not accompanied by an equally effective business change process.
There are a number of factors at play that make this final, but critical component of project success difficult to achieve. Below we examine some potential pitfalls that project managers and project teams should be aware of when striving for excellence – not only in technical delivery but also in embedding business change.
The never-ending horizon
Implementing the change into the business is more or less the last thing to occur on a project.
With many projects typically running for more than 12 months, the final business change activities can often appear remote and far off in the distance. The full extent of the challenge of the business change can be neglected during the initial scoping and planning of a project due to the long timelines with the focus on the more immediate technical activities.
To get the jump on what successful business change activities will be required and to facilitate some meaningful, early planning, the project manager should set aside time to review past implementations, for example:
- Talk to other PMs who have delivered change in that particular business area
- Review lessons learned from PIRs etc.
They should also engage early not only with the business sponsor but also the subject matter experts (SMEs): those people who will be on the ground during any deployment, throughout the planning phases.
This should give the project manager better insights into what will be required and allow for these business change activities to be catered for in early scoping and planning exercises.
What else is going on?
Good project managers by definition can be indifferent to the world around them as they pursue the successful delivery of their scope. Whilst they may understand (and be able to feign genuine concern!) for other projects and business challenges around them what they are really about is driving the outcomes of their project.
This single-minded focus is a prerequisite of any project manager as it is the delivery of their scope they will be held to account for. However, such a myopic approach can also come at a cost, particularly when planning successful business change.
Project managers should be open to investigating early in the planning process what other business change is planned for in their impacted business units, including what business challenges they may be facing into the future (headcount reductions, changing business landscapes etc).
Such information will help inform the planning process for the business change activities and guard against inaccurate assumptions being made that may impact the project later in its lifecycle.
Spend some quality time with the business
Too often project managers spend most their time with the technical staff on their projects. This could be triaging issues, reviewing the technical plans, assisting with the planning and execution of testing cycles etc. This focus on the technical can come at a cost. It does not begin to provide the end-user insights that are required to ensure the technical changes can be embedded successfully into the business.
If project managers were to change this focus and begin to devote a greater percentage of their time engaged with the business, the insights gained should greatly increase their appreciation of the business change challenges and ensure better planning and execution of this business change.
The types of things a project manager could do include spending a day on the front line with the users, floor walking with the SMEs and meeting the influencers personally within the business teams. They should also be attending team meetings as an observer to better understand the user group dynamics.
All of these activities should provide the project manager better insights into how the business unit ticks and these insights could then be factored into the business change activities.
Delivering successful business change requires accurate insights
The points above are by no means exhaustive. Delivering successful business change is complex and forever challenging and requires the right inputs (i.e. accurate insights) for project managers to plan successfully. It cannot be wholly outsourced to the change manager.
The project manager has a responsibility to provide whatever assistance they can to set the change effort up for success and by following some of the suggestions above, the business change has a greater chance of matching and complimenting the success of any technical delivery.
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