Have you ever been in a scenario where issues are recurrent across projects, but no one is paying attention? Or where the culture of the organisation is so low on trust that your project status reports look like chapters of War and Peace? Perhaps even your project board meetings resemble a crowded music festival (except the fun and the music but also with too many people yelling and arguing)?
It’s difficult and over-simplistic to map the cause of such panorama to a single source, particularly because projects are a multi-factor and context-dependent phenomena, yet, if you are experiencing any of the situations above, it’s time to start a path of discovery and deep reflection and start implementing preventive and corrective actions.
Projects are costly endeavours per se, but there is another often neglected and silent cost draining a big portion of your organisation’s budget: the high cost of low performance. How much is low performance costing your project? I dare you to ask the question (and find an answer)!
Here are some hints and tips to assist you in tackling such problem:
- Transparency leads to accountability: I’m not a fan of name-shaming but I’m all in for accountability. If schedules are not being maintained, timesheets not produced, or actions not implemented, this can very quickly become an issue to the project. However, if you make this information available to all, you can back your concerns up about the lack of accountability – not just an opinion but evidence-based data – in this way leading to a change in behaviours. This can be easily achieved through a PPM tool such as Microsoft PPM in conjunction with real-data reporting provided by Power BI, for instance where reports cannot be manipulated after the fact.
- Make time count: trust me, if there’s something that most project boards and senior leadership teams care about is money being spent in superfluous activities. If you want to provide visibility over the costs of a project, you should not only use costed resources (yes, I also mean internal resources, even if at a blended-rate) but also actually put a figure to the amount of money being wasted with unnecessary project meeting and too many (very often senior, thus, costly) individuals that are not relevant to project decisions. Low trust demands more controls, more controls demand more time, and time has a high cost, you can do the maths.
- Escalate it: it’s unfair to believe that leadership teams are omniscient and know what’s going on all the time, just deciding to leave the project as is for the sake of not disturbing higher powers in the hierarchical structure or, worse, not caring enough to act. In fact, not all problems manage to reach the top of the pyramid – some never even leave the ground floor! Have a look at the iceberg of ignorance – that’s right, most problems remain hidden and just 4% are visible to executives. So, don’t be afraid to escalate a risk or an issue, sometimes that’s the only way it will get sorted out. Be brave.
Fig 1. The Iceberg of Ignorance
- Build a fail-friendly culture: despite what you might think in your worse days, no, performance issues are not related to people’s pure desire to annoy you. Most frequently, this issue results from an inappropriate or incomplete project process, lack of engagement with the company/project, or a mismatch between an individual’s competences and the level of challenges (and complexity, one might argue) surrounding the project. Thus, before you are too quick to judge, you should provide mechanisms for feedback and assistance and opportunities to upskill and strengthen competences. People should feel comfortable enough to ask for help without being criticised or disregarded and that can only be achieved through a culture that promotes frankness, collaboration, and an appreciation of failure as an opportunity for learning. Remember, everyone’s human. Even in project management.
- Add consequences: whether a carrot or a stick, behaviours and performances should have consequences attached. I once worked in a company where the completion of timely timesheets was so important to the business (invoices were issued based on timesheet data) that any timesheet not completed on time every week would have a direct effect on the salary we took home every month. Radical? Yes, but I assure you that people got the message very quickly. Allow me to let you with a provocative thought: what if we had skin in the game? Could you imagine the power (or the panic) of having sponsors accountable for benefits realisation or project managers accountable for project delivery? Gosh, one can even start to naively believe that this was our accountability in the first place!