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Stuck Inside the Project Comfort Zone
By John Gough

A project is a temporary organization, established to fulfill a specific remit. Projects are usually formed inside bigger organizations, where they nestle like small Russian dolls, impervious to the outside world.

Within the organization, projects are far removed from the key operational functions of the business. They are often attached to the IT department, and as a result exist as islands on tributaries well upstream to the vital ebb and flow of the organization.

It is no doubt comforting for project teams, to know that they are cocooned in their own small world. Here they can get on with their Gantt charts, coding and testing, secure and safe in the knowledge, that unless there is a commercial catastrophe, they will not be disturbed.

However to the outside world inside the organization, projects represents a cost, and are often annoying, and unnecessary diversions. Most senior managers, will understand their business case, but will have little or no interest in the project, the technology or the solution. They know projects fail, and so are probably right to show tacit approval in public, but remain cynical in private.

A recent study of CEO’s and COO’s conducted by the International Project Management Association, across 54 companies in Australia and New Zealand, suggested that only 13% of the senior executives had confidence that critical projects were managed in “the most efficient way”.

Lack of confidence was often down to lack of information, according the authors of the report:

“Business leaders understand how critical these projects are, but very few have access to the information they need to ensure they are implemented quickly and to budget.”

So senior management know there are projects stuck somewhere in the back rooms of their organization, but have little or no idea what is going on, and to be fair will have little or no interest, until the project implodes.

Traditional project methodology dictates that a project interacts with its environment through documentation, reporting and governance. This minimal contact provides the perfect comfort zone for the project manager and the team, tucked away in their hideaway, behind the IT department front door. They need only venture into the outside world occasionally for regular formal meetings, or communicate via weekly or monthly reports, which generally look the same, say the same thing and generally remain unread.

Projects fail because of a lack of communication, and the Australian survey found that few senior managers knew what was going on.

Project Managers have to get out of their office, out of their comfort zone and join the real world. Make a list on a spreadsheet of not just the project stakeholders, but everyone in the organization that has the slightest influence on the project. Rank each person based on their importance to the project. Create a PowerPoint presenter and print it in color. Get face time with all the people on your list, and see those at the top of the list regularly. Use the presenter one on one. Twenty minutes should be enough time. Talk about the project, and why the benefits are important to the organization. Get feedback, but most of all, get out and win hearts and minds.

John Gough works with major organizations in both the public and private sector to make change happen. John is the Principal Consultant & Director of iJounery, a Project Management consulting company.

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