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With Project Management Improvements, Fear Is the Highest Fence!
By Kiron D. Bondale

Improving project management maturity can be a slow, painful process.

An early hurdle to overcome is convincing the senior leadership team of the benefits of project management. Presenting sufficient local evidence of the impacts of a “just do it” culture coupled with advice from unbiased third-party consultants may help to convince executives of its merits. Once this light bulb goes off, a flurry of activity usually occurs with introduction of governance changes related to project intake and prioritization, and implementation of a few standard practices & tools. This change may translate into some modest improvements in project success and predictability.

But at some point, progress stalls – project success rates don’t appear to continuously improve and flare ups increase between project and functional managers. If this plateau persists for too long, someone is likely to use project management as a scapegoat, and it gets marginalized.

One way to avoid this is to recognize that most of the resistance to change originates from fear. This could be fear of loss of power (e.g. the shift in responsibility from functional to project managers) or fears of what greater visibility might imply. When we feel fear, there is a strong tendency to rely on our lizard brains and to invoke fight or flight responses – the former is seen in conflicts between project leaders and other staff while the latter shows up as passive resistance or lack of compliance to practice changes.

Beyond the usual change management doctrine of involving affected staff, socializing the changes, and rolling changes out incrementally, an additional tactic to consider is to help staff identify, explore and manage their fears. With acknowledgement and open discussion about staff concerns it can demonstrate empathy and could help to debunk many of the myths and misconceptions they might have about project management. Understanding their fears can help you to prepare effective communication strategies and implementation plans.

Bill Cosby said it best: “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.”

Kiron D. Bondale, PMP is the Director, Corporate Project Management Office at Agricorp.

Kiron has managed multiple mid-to-large-sized technology and change management projects, and has worked in both internal and professional services project management capacities. He has setup and managed Project Management Offices (PMO) and has provided project portfolio management and project management consulting services to clients across multiple industries.

Kiron is an active member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and served as a volunteer director on the Board of the PMI Lakeshore Chapter for six years.

Kiron has published articles on Project and Project Portfolio Management in both project management-specific journals (PM Network, PMI-ISSIG journal, Projects & Profits) as well as industry-specific journals (ILTA Peer-to-peer).  He has delivered almost a hundred webinar presentations on a variety of PPM and PM topics and has presented at multiple industry conferences including HIMSS, MISA and ProjectWorld.  In addition to this blog, Kiron contributes articles on a monthly basis to ProjectTimes.com.

Kiron is a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organization change that addresses process & technology, but most important, people will maximize your chances for success.

For more of Kiron’s thoughts on project management, please visit his blog at http://solutionq.wordpress.com/.

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