Several of the projects that I lead early on in my project management career had a major component to do with business transformation. Either through the application of new technologies or reworking bad corporate processes. The need to apply constant change within organizations sometimes is seen as necessary in order to ensure a continuance of competitiveness or improvement.
Business process improvement in fact often goes hand in hand with applying new technology in organization as often the expenditure can only be justified by transforming the way that companies do business. Having said that though I have found that within organizations if the objectives and strategy are unclear, the process reengineering work suffers and it becomes nothing more than a headless beast. The lack of direction causes project teams to develop a certain sense of aimlessness in their approach and as such trap into into failure.
These issues got me thinking about something that we take for granted. We often as humans assume that with change comes progress. We assume that if the situation we operate within is bad, then by applying change we receive improvement. Certainly that is an optimistic and healthy way of approaching change. However, resistance to change comes because of a fear that the change will bring about greater misery rather than relief.
The reason that resistance takes place sometimes is not because there is a perception problem or out of some fantasy that certain stakeholders create. The reason that we see people resist change is because they have more than likely experienced negative consequences resulting from a change that took place in the past.
Establishing an understanding that not all change brings about progress is a healthy balance for the project management community as I’ve often found that professionals in our field tend to thrive on change sometimes only for the sake of change. It is natural for project managers to thrive on change as this is their chosen profession. However, we must be critical and examine the reasons behind the proposed change. We have to determine if the change is warranted and developing a justification for this change can only take place by establishing a visible link to the business objectives of the organization.
Identifying the critical drivers impacting the business allows us to look at the business process holistically and determine if change has to be applied to achieve improved performance. This is difficult because it means that as project managers we must sometimes provide feedback to executives opposing the initiation of a project or a program. It is somewhat counter intuitive as we depend on these projects to stay engaged and frankly keep our jobs.
I often share in training sessions that one of the hardest things that a project manager has to do is to kill a failing project. Whether the failure is caused by poor performance or bad alignment to strategy matters little as the drain on the financial and human resources is basically no different. If we keep this in mind when evaluating strategic change projects, it will help us speak out against projects that don’t make sense. After all, it is easier to stop a project from getting initiated that killing a project in mid stream.