You may legitimately state that: “My project management has nothing in common with anything from PMBOK® Guide”. Many companies use projects to structure the work. However, they do not really understand the benefits of project management. Nevertheless, projects are done successfully there.
So, is it a dead end of your career? I mean, should you waste your time managing projects like that? Or is there a way to grow skills and knowledge to international standards of project management in such environment?
It may not be obvious, but I worked quite a lot in the organisation where project management is not appreciated. The majority of what I write and talk at PM Basics was not applicable there. Nevertheless, I was able to integrate several crucial processes that changed the way of management. At least on my projects.
So, is there a way to grow and improve as a project manager in such environment?
I do know there is a way! And here are several pieces of advice from my personal experience.
Should You do it Here?
Before you even start, you need to ask yourself a question. What do YOU really want?
Do you want to work in a company that believes in particular project management approach? So that you can put all your knowledge to good use. Moreover, where such efforts are valued. Then, I would suggest you to look for a new job opportunity. Especially, if you are at a junior level now. Plan your efforts to gain minimal required experience to try to get to another organisation.
If you really care about your company and determined to grow and improve together with it – then roll your sleeves. There is a lot of hard work ahead.
Understand the Environment
If an organisation works with projects, why it doesn’t invest in project management. Well, there is always a story.
Look around. Ask about the development of project management in the organisation. Identify why it is implemented this way or another.
You need to know how the organisational environment developed and formed. After that, learn why it had stopped at the stage where it is now.
There are several outstanding cases that you can see in your company.
- Your organisation is heavy on policies, and there is a small group of people who support them rigorously. Most likely there was a breaking point in the development of the organisation. Many prominent experts left or were replaced by less competent ones.
- Your organisation is managed as if it is a project. It means that the company grew up way too fast at some point. The key positions were taken by people who were not experienced to manage at a higher level. Therefore, executives and CEOs work as they worked when they were PMs and Team Leads.
- Project Management Office (or a body that acts as a PMO) is staffed with people from other industries or operational management. There are be a lot of processes, documents, and meetings. However, they are highly inefficient.
- The greatest asset of the organisation is creative people. The same happens when businesspeople, company owners or sponsors directly influence the project management approach. In this case “Plan before you act” is utterly despised.
- Nevertheless, it is entirely possible, that current approach is the most efficient for the kind of projects your organisation performs. The company developed and customised it through extensive experience.
Getting Things Done
First of all, you do need to show that you can manage projects in “conventional” way. I mean, in a manner it is usually done in the organisation. Even if it takes a lot of efforts and nerves. That is your credibility display.
Moreover, you do need performance data. Before you start improving something, you need to present measurable benefits. On the other hand, you can try to prove inefficiency.
In any case, you need some baseline to compare with.
Local Improvements First
Second, you need to prove that a new improvement gives benefits. Also, it is important to think on the organisational level. Will you be able to scale your success?
Most of your ideas should stay at your project level. Just make improvements one by one. Sharpen your skills and build your influence as an expert. Some changes may be too big to push from below. Nevertheless, most likely no one will object you using new approaches on your project. Until they work well.
When something goes wrong, your innovations will be blamed first. Therefore, your current project should be a controllable test ground.
However, if you really want to push it further, you need to work with additional variables.
Professional Level of Colleagues
There are a lot of experienced managers around you. Some of them work for decades already. However, are all of them professionals?
They do know how to manage a project in a certain way. But do they have a theoretical knowledge?
Therefore, the rule number one is to mind their professional level. If you want to achieve or improve something, you need to speak their language. Terminology from PMBOK® Guide or any other established source may not be typical for them. If you use it and they do not understand it – they will become defensive.
In such a case you colleagues and bosses will block or endlessly loop your ideas.
Know Their Fears
Everyone has some work-related fears. You should never trigger these concerns unexpectedly.
Usually, we are afraid of things that we do not understand. It is often the case in project management. People don’t want to introduce Agile methodologies, make changes to established policies and processes, or adopt new technologies because they do not understand them.
People like to feel irreplaceable. So they are afraid when you challenge that status. Any improvement always impacts someone’s value in an organisation that halted in development.
If you want to do something new or make changes, you need to start from afar. First addressing the fears, only then explaining the benefits.
Networking, not Stakeholder Management
You need a network of supporters. Even if you can identify major blockers and avoid deepest fears, people will be reluctant to change anything. Any change requires huge reservoirs of trust, buy in, and serious believe in you.
Quite often comment sense, measurable benefits, and absence of risks are not enough. Therefore, there is almost always resistance.
Moreover, be ready to get into a classical political drama. All policies, processes, and decisions that you will try to change have a background. There is always an old wound or a conflict behind it.
Creating a movement of enthusiastic project managers is one of the great ways to get supporters. There is nothing new here. Just lead by example.
Sell Benefits Like a Sales Guy
You should never try to make changes straight ahead.
- Start with pre-sale. See if your ideas are new in the organisation. Quite likely there is a history of (unsuccessful) implementation or assessment. Look for blockers that restricted the idea before. You do want to be prepared for it. Sooner or later you will have to deal with them anyway.
- Find supporters. See who share the similar point of view. Look for people who will get the benefits. Have them test your ideas. All in all, one success story is good. Three separate successful projects are the pattern.
- Identify resistance. There will be benefits on one side of the scale and fears on the other. You need to know who will add up fears. Nevertheless, stay open minded and objective. They still may have well-founded fears. Also, keep in mind that you may undermine someone’s value and importance for the organisation by suggesting improvements.
- Plant a seed. Before you start selling benefits of any improvements, you need to get the topic out of tabu zone. Start talking about it. Collect more opinions, fears, history. Plant the idea that a subject requires consideration soon.
- Start selling. In essences, it is a chess game. You suggest an improvement and describe the benefits. They scare everyone. You address their fears. They loop you with endless questions and useless meetings. You reveal your supporters. They push hard on policies and roles.
At some point, it will become distracting and disturbing. Therefore, your superiors should make a stand and take action. Then the game repeats on a higher level…
Take Initiative and Blame
There is one sure advice that can boost your chances to push through an improvement. Take the responsibility. Or even better. Reveal your opponents from any liability.
If an endeavour is successful – organisation wins. Everyone will reap the benefits and fame. If there will be a failure – everyone will know whom to blame. But you are a project manager. It is always that way, isn’t it?
I got one crucial lesson out of that experience. If you want to improve project management in the organisation, be ready to get in conflicts a lot. Nevertheless, it is up to you whether these conflicts will be constructive or destructive. Mine had different outcomes.