Self-Destructive Behavior


Unfortunately, many project managers do not respond to change but react to it, adding to its complexity. This reaction acts like feeding oxygen to a fire; the more pumped in, the bigger the flames. Here are some ways that project managers inadvertently feed the flames of change in a way that adds complexity and deteriorates overall performance.

Pretend That Change Will Go Away

To use a trite analogy, they are like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand in the hope that the hyenas will go away. The reality is that the hyenas will remain and their presence will increase. In other words, doing nothing will not work. Circumstances will require action of some sort .

Many project managers hope that change will be temporary and that circumstances will change. The problem is not change itself per se but their reaction or unresponsiveness to it. For example, a budget cut will not go away; it will require that project managers take some type of response to deal with change. Another example is that a new tool or methodology is introduced during a project that could produce a better product and reduce costs. A project manager may need to take a different approach.

Add More People

A change occurs, such as an increase in scope, and the tendency is to add more people. There is a belief that more is better, leading to dramatic improvements. While this approach may work sometimes, more often than not it fails. Adding more people may only add to difficulties. More people increase the number of interactions among stakeholders and also learning curves. This circumstance is quite common on technological projects that require the interdisciplinary cooperation among knowledge workers.

People do not want change to go away even if project managers pretend it does not exist. Change is something that cannot be taken lightly because it permeates everything and occurs constantly, especially on projects. As Tom Peters notes in The Pursuit of Wow! , you must avoid taking change and the response to it for granted. It is a double-edged sword because people want it, but they also want constancy. [22]

Purchase a Silver Bullet

Silver bullets can come in many forms, e.g., tool, technique, or even consultant. They often help adapting in the short- term , but fail to address the underlying issues associated with change. Indeed, they can worsen matters due to addressing the symptoms only. Silver bullets are quite prevalent in high-technology industries, but few have really helped in managing change. In many respects, they have added complexity to change because project managers have exercised little forethought about how to leverage the power of the silver bullets.

Remove Current People/Replace with Different People

Many project managers are fond of saying that people resist change and that the only solution is to seek people who agree with a change. So, they request that certain people be removed, thinking that a change will be more acceptable to a new set of team members. More often than not, the problem does not lie with these people but how the change is introduced to a team. While replacing people may work in the short run, it may prove costly in the long run. Reasons include: creating a "brain drain," slowing the performance of existing players to help new members, and eroding trust with remaining team members .

Extend the Schedule

One of the first reactions to dealing with change is to alter the schedule. While sometimes a prudent action, it may prove unnecessary and possibly hurt progress. Changes will constantly occur and taking such a " knee-jerk " reaction will likely disrupt processes and may inadvertently extend the schedule even more than desired. Project managers should first try to accommodate the schedule by adjusting the logic as well as time and cost estimates. In other words, they should concentrate first on working smarter .

Do the Opposite and Doggedly Stick to What Already Exists

Some project managers think that the best way to deal with change is to resist ideas from stakeholders by establishing procedures that discourage any changes from arising in the first place. These and other strong-armed tactics assume that if a change is accepted, it must be a good one. In addition, some project managers feel the need to be in control but that often reflects that they are not and even seem weak willed. Finally, some project managers adhere to the perception that their role is to preserve and protect when, ironically, they should be transformative .

The above perceptions and assumptions are often fallacious at best because they discourage the free flow of ideas that bring innovative solutions that could encourage further progress. They also represent narrow, linear thinking that can result in missed opportunities to augment project performance as well as lead to project failure. Besides, project managers appear passive when in reality they should be very dynamic, which the generally accepted view of leadership in general.

Move Erratically from Start to Finish to Control Change

Many project managers, perhaps reflecting indecisiveness more than anything else, fail to respond to change. Instead, they react to it, receptive to it at one point and reversing themselves at another. They end up exhibiting inconsistency. However, such behavior may go beyond indecisiveness. It may actually reflect nonexistent or unclear vision and a lack of discipline when evaluating the impact of changes. As project managers zigzag in thought and action, stakeholders grow increasingly impatient and frustrated since they cannot anticipate what to expect next . A fine line exists between being flexible versus fluid. Being flexible is making adjustments according to a vision while providing structure behind decisions. Being fluid is making adjustments without considering a vision and acting merely to avoid or get past a bad situation. Many project managers are often more fluid than flexible; that is a major reason scope creep hovers above them to the very end of their projects.

Scope creep can prove disastrous. Project managers must deal with it successfully by exercising appropriate will power and discipline. Adrian Abramovici adds that scope creep will occur and when it happens project managers must understand the nature of a change rather than concentrate on protecting the baseline. [23] Daniel Kim agrees, since all goals tend to change from original intent, and writes that goals tend to drift based on what is occurring at the time. [24] The culprit, of course, is the lure of the "quick fix" to satisfy the needs of the moment rather than addresses root causes. [25]

"Sugar Coat" Situations

They try to deny that a need for change exists. They attempt to convince themselves and others that the change is unnecessary for many reasons, such as being unimportant. Unfortunately, these project managers let themselves and others down because they refuse to take the time and effort to determine if a change might be valuable . It is interesting to listen to the rationalizations and excuses frequently used to justify sugarcoating: "We've tried to do this before on another project and it won't work here." "The change is just temporary. The need for it will go away soon." "The change looks important but it really isn't." "It's more trouble to deal with than it's worth."

Such rationalizations and excuses are grounded in merit. The challenge is to avoid coming to any definitive conclusions without first determining whether a change deserves attention. Failure to be open in regards to dealing with a specific or general change results in overlooking solid opportunities to improve project performance and respond to changes. Tom Peters is right: Change and pain go hand in hand. [26] He is, however, only half right. There other part is that without pain there is no gain.

Force Change

They assume that, by virtue of their position, people will accept a change by decree. Yet, a decree seldom works; it only illustrates one of Newton's laws ” for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The harder project managers push, the harder the resistance, causing severe consequences. Project managers may find themselves in confrontation with the very people from which they need support to complete their projects.

Schisms among stakeholders can arise because the stance becomes one of either/or; that is, either for or against a change. Divisiveness can intensify to the point that an issue becomes very personal. Mao Tse-Tung once commented that change comes only from the barrel of a gun. That may be true if project managers have a gun. Most project managers have no gun, either literally or figuratively.

The reality is that, from a project management perspective, this view is unrealistic because people resist change by nature. Despite the prevalence of change in our lives, organizations still resist change at all levels.

The best approach, of course, is for project managers to acknowledge , assess, and evaluate change from the perspective of what is best for a project and do so in a way that encourages acceptance, ownership, and accountability. Change then becomes less of a threat and more of a catalyst to further the interests of stakeholders in general and a project in particular.

View Change as a Technical Issue When It Is a Behavioral Issue

Many project managers think change has only a technical dimension, e.g., adding functionality to a tool or applying a methodology. Such changes have a much more profound and subtle impact on people who decide to adapt or embrace a change than the tool or technique itself. For example, introducing a new project management package for use on a project may improve data analysis but may also alter the processes and behavior associated with collecting data for entry into the software. It may also affect the way that output is used. Behavioral issues may include how people work together, interpret information, and overcome a learning curve. Many project managers fail to appreciate behavioral considerations, possibly because they often obtain their positions due to technical expertise.

[22] Tom Peters, The Pursuit of Wow! , Vintage Books, New York, 1994, p. 82.

[23] Adrian Abramovici, Controlling scope creep, PM Network , p. 48, January 2000.

[24] Daniel H. Kim, Drifting goals: the challenge of conflicting priorities, The Systems Thinker , p. 7, November 1999.

[25] Virginia Anderson, Introducing the system archetypes: the fixes that fail, The Systems Thinker , p. 7, March 1999.

[26] Tom Peters, The Pursuit of Wow! , Vintage Books, New York, 1994, p. 81.




Leading High Performance Projects
The Photoshop CS2 Speed Clinic: Automating Photoshop to Get Twice the Work Done in Half the Time
ISBN: 193215910X
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 169

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