Association for Project Management
Things leaders need to do to ensure success and stakeholder value
Blog posted by: Robert Blakemore, 06 Jan 2022.
The programme and project delivery challenge to sustain delivered customer value gets tougher by the year. The effectiveness of leadership in addressing this challenge is in part influenced by a clear organisational strategy, and provides the vision for how an organisation will operate with others in the 'value chain' to deliver customer value.
The development of technology now moves so fast that organisational strategies need at least annual updates to stay relevant, and enterprise project delivery needs to keep up with this. Necessary adjustments must acknowledge the functional and behavioural changes that are needed, and project delivery leaders need to be ‘on point’ with their role in ensuring this. This might alter the organisations core culture, a really tough leadership challenge to sustain, which needs an enduring and determined approach across the whole value chain.
The extent of the challenge varies, but even a large corporate can quickly adapt their leadership approach to create an environment where innovation is nurtured; ensuring and mandating governance challenges to usual approaches to such things as 'delivery option generation'. Perhaps this can be helped by significant action in the strategy, such as dividing the organisation, to ensure each part has a very clear mission and purpose.
So what should project leaders to do?
Providing functional education and training for new project leaders is a typical start. Perhaps then comes mandating the re-training of more experienced staff in areas like agile project delivery or lean techniques. How about adjusting assurance and approval expectations to require demonstration of experimentation and testing results? This ensures rapid movement from concept to a functioning minimum viable product. Organisations can mandate an operating licence or a requirement for a specific level of qualification or experience to lead an organisation's programmes, supported by mandatory continuous professional development which ensures the right behaviours as well as skills.
But all these types of interventions only really address the functional problem. They don't address the fundamental problem of change resistance or 'fear' in individuals or organisations that have been wedded to a particular approach for a very long time, and which may work to the advantage of long serving staff. Ensuring effective leadership in this context often requires multiple interventions from leaders at all levels to rewire an organisations values and behaviours – to drive and embed changes in culture. That can mean making change safe and desirable, although probably needs to be accompanied by an exit strategy for those who cannot, or will not, buy into this.
Directly and openly addressing the 'fear' of change and the 'hygiene factors' that prevent effective and sustained organisational change makes it safe for those who want to stay and commit to the organisation’s future success. Changing organisational structures, workplaces, reward policies and embedding the need for joint working with customers and the supply chain might involve creating one team focussed on establishing this value. Insisting on customer 360 degree reviews for all staff, accompanied by direct and clear action when individuals don’t behave and communicate clearly in alignment with the organisation’s strategic objectives and the qualities needed to deliver them, would leave no hiding place for problems.
Re-establishing organisational norms for even the most experienced and embedded project delivery staff will take time. This can mean as much effort is required to target experienced leaders’ behaviours as well as training new ones in functional competence. Compassionate implementation of training is needed to ensure good staff stick with it (and the organisation).
This is all part of developing a deliberate project delivery culture that properly recognises future customer operations and what the organisation does to create customer value. Establishing new change responsibilities are needed to sustain and improve the delivery of value in contemporary, complex delivery environments. All successful 'high tech' organisations can continuously improve experimentation and modification of the capability as it is being built and delivered.
In improvement strategies, project leaders need to:
- Set quarterly personal goals to establish the pace of change and publicly reward those who meet them.
- Be clear on what good behaviour looks like. Active listening, leading collaborative problem solving, framing the root of issues etc, and consistently demonstrating those behaviours.
- Challenge any misalignment of approach.
- Coach and mentor as a part of their leadership and participate in reverse mentoring.
- Ensure procurements include consortium bidders, use outcome based requirements, set expectations for collaborative behaviours through the supply and value chain, and maintain currency of technology through the life of a contract.
- Manage the demands and expectations of customers who will need to play a more active role off the back of both the technology (product focus) and the operation (service focus).
- Address as many 'hygiene factors' as possible: workplace environments, style of working with customer and supplier, better defined interfaces, software support to governance and management information.
- Ensure change is informed by governance and the supporting management information that can measure the improvement in value being achieved.
The purpose of ensuring effective and consistent leadership across the project and organisation ensures the realisation of ongoing benefit to customers and end users. Sustaining this in the light of increasing technological and social change, progressively maintains and improves customer value. And ensuring recognition across the enterprise that achieving this in a context of increasing complexity and interdependency, requires different behaviours, approaches and adaptations to ensure future relevance.*
Organisations that are effective in identifying which programmes are succeeding and why, and which aren't, are also generally better at understanding what they need to do to address their weaker programmes. Organisations that are curious to gain a better understanding of how what they do actually delivers customer value are also more likely to ask the difficult questions, and make the interventions needed to ensure that the value they provide is amplified across the whole value chain.
You may also be interested in:
- Evolving Project Leadership
- How to be a great communicator
- Leadership skills for successful projects
About the Author
I have 32 years civil service experience in the delivery, assurance and governance of many technical, ICT and scientific programmes and projects. Originally a scientist, I made a mid-career change to project delivery. I’ve worked for the Home Office since 2012, and am currently Deployment Lead for the ‘Nationals & Sharers’ within the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme. I am a Chartered Project Professional, Fellow of the APM and qualified in multiple Waterfall and Agile delivery techniques.
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