Beware – Project Power Shifts

By Bob McGannon, PMP

Engaged project managers who employ strict change processes, in addition to other management disciplines, control their projects in great detail. They confirm requirements, run regular status meetings, and confirm project status is being reported accurately. They employ detailed test planning – even utilize detailed process modeling to ensure technical tools and business process changes are in alignment – and yet the project fails miserably. What is this mystery project killer? The power shifts that result from implementation of project deliverables.

Power shifts – changes in responsibility, accountability, or altered decision making as a result of implementing project deliverables, will often catch major stakeholders unaware. This occurs even if the same stakeholders approved the project requirements. The result of this “surprise” for major stakeholders is a lack of buy-in when the project’s product is implemented. This in turn creates confusion, finger-pointing, and a lack of business benefit realization. There are techniques a project manager can employ to avoid this project doomsday event. A look at some of the common causes of power shifts, and the ways to avoid their impacts, follows here.

Changes in responsibility

Senior managers that serve as sponsors of projects often enthusiastically approve of projects that implement new tools and/or processes with substantial ROI potential. Often, in the time constrained world of executives, emphasis is placed on the content of the end product, but not always on the context or the impacts of that end product. As a result, many signed and approved project charters end up creating a product that has unintended – or misunderstood – responsibility changes amongst a management team. At times, this is due to a lack of attention to detail, other times it is a misunderstanding of the proposed solution. Regardless of the cause, the resulting shift in responsibility makes the senior manager uncomfortable and significant (sometimes fatal) issues result for the project manager.

Another frequent cause of this problem is when a project is plagued with an inadequate sponsor. Only an appropriate sponsor will have the authority to enforce business process changes that result from the deliverables provided by the project team. The inadequate sponsor cannot dictate the implementation of project deliverables. As a result, a partially implemented solution creates process inconsistencies for the organization. The sponsor’s organization adopts the change, but the remainder of the organization does not recognize the benefits of the change and resists – thus compounding the effort required to implement the solution.

Ability to affect prioritization

Another major issue with project deliverables can result when the senior manager’s ability to affect prioritization of projects, spending, and/or personnel deployment is diminished. This is a common issue that surfaces when centralized project offices are implemented that involve moving the project management personnel from throughout the organization into a consolidated “department” of PM’s. Suddenly, the direct assignment responsibility that a senior manager had at one point is diminished, if not eliminated entirely. In addition, the prioritization of project initiatives as delivered within the functional units might change. Although the project office has the greater good of the corporation in mind, prioritization decisions that aren’t made at the functional level might be viewed as sub-optimizing business priorities. This will create pushback and contention that was unexpected by senior leaders/sponsors of the project.

Process changes and automation of management decisions

The purpose of a project is to design and initiate organizational change. However, the focus of projects is often on the tools or the processes that are to be changed. In the course of project implementation the procedures that employees and their management team utilize often change – while the need for focus on these changes is usually under-estimated. As a result, unintended changes to the business environment are made – from the viewpoint of the project’s customer management team’s perspective.

A prime example of this is when operational business decisions are automated. In the “as-is” environment, people use a common and repeatable set of logic to decide how to proceed with operational execution items. When these items are automated, control – or the perception of control – might seem to be lost, as the “computer” makes the decisions that were made by employees. Well designed systems will allow for “overrides” to change those decisions; yet the perceived “lack of control” that employees feel is conveyed to management. Thus, project deployment issues, in the form of resistance to these changes, is the result.

A Powerful Solution

So how do we circumvent these issues? It actually doesn’t take a sophisticated tool, just a direct conversation with major stakeholders. When each major stakeholder is approached, and their goals for the project are clearly documented and COMPARED with other major stakeholders, conflicts can be resolved prior to the project planning stage. Many project managers will collect project objectives from the sponsor, but don’t sufficiently review and confirm those with the collective set of major stakeholders. Using the Stakeholder Analysis Table (which is this months downloadable tool on the website) this process becomes very straightforward. After collecting the results from all major stakeholders, the results can be compared and contrasted to ensure a unified set of goals exist for the project – saving a lot of pain, significant funds and, most precious of all, resource time for the organization.

Bob McGannon is a Founder and Principal of MINDAVATION, a company providing project management training and consulting, leadership workshops and team building programs throughout North America. Bob can be reached at MINDAVATION via the web atWWW.MINDAVATION.COM or by calling 866-888-MIND (6463).


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