So, it’s the start of another year as a professional project manager and consultant. Another year to spend dealing with deadlines, negotiating for resources, and mitigating risks before they become issues. Another year of project teams, insane pressure, and punctuated progress masked under mass hysteria. Definitely something to look forward to!
One thing I can definitely say, though, is that it will be yet another year of change. Project management allows me to work directly to alter the environments I touch for better or for the worse. Which of those two we accomplish has little to do with what products we create/implement but a great deal to do with how we go about ushering in the transformation..
Ushering in a positive change, regardless of the circumstances, requires me to accept that people do not like change, continuously maintain the changes my clients pay me to implement, and help others to find value in the changes. Those three are all tall orders for me; I’m not much of a salesman and when I fundamentally disagree with the change I find it hard to maintain it in the face of determined opposition.
Determined opposition almost inevitably pops up for any change, regardless of what benefits it might bring to the company as a whole. Oddly enough, opposition occurs even when the change itself seems relatively transparent. Simple infrastructure projects like swapping out routers and running new cable can quickly become political nightmares as people on all sides weigh in. The wrangling back and forth about these projects generally takes longer than the actual work. Meanwhile radical process changing software implementations sail though the approval process under executive fiat, only to cause incredible consternation when the user community finally understands what will happen.
Opposition, even to ill-considered changes, does eventually settle down into steady grumbling rather than open rebellion as people figure out ways to get their jobs done with or around the new situation. However getting to the point where we achieve a steady state generally does not fall within the realm of project management. Instead we blithely throw the most difficult tasks over to support and operations, knowing they can use their “deep ties” with the user community to keep everyone from burning effigies of us all.
The key to helping support and operations in their thankless task is to sell the organization on the changes the project ushers in. As always, the key to sales lies in perceived value – what does each individual believe this change will do for them, specifically, which will make their lives easier or better? Organizational speak and business value mean very to the vast majority of those of us who do the work; we care about getting our job done to the relative best of our abilities. For a change to really take hold everyone has to believe it will deliver a positive outcome which they care about.
In IT we generally go for the “easy” positive outcome of “it will be easier!” Honestly, though, a lot of times it is not easier; the tools we implement do not speed up the individual worker’s activity or impose additional constraints they may not want or understand. Fortunately speed and freedom are not the only things people value. Many people value precision in their work, or the ability to ensure a high quality outcome, or even just the ability to quickly find the information they need to help another person though a tough time.
Understanding all of that, though, will not always help when my heart is not in it. I can tailor my message all I want, use every trick in the book, but intent will always count more than technique. If I disagree with a choice I can solider on and get the job done, but that doesn’t mean that I can sell others on it. Which is, in the end, a problem for a project manager and one I’m going to have to work out.