Beware of The Inexperienced Project Manager

9 Part Blog: The Reasons Transformational Change Can Fail — Reason 7.

Having an inexperienced Project Manager leading transformational change is one of the most significant mistakes a company can make. In some organizations, a promising employee may be motivated or encouraged to take on the role. However, their lack of experience significantly increases the odds that critical mistakes will be made. Many well designed transformational initiatives have failed because of not having an experienced Project Manager.

Common Mistakes Made by an Inexperienced Project Manager

Transformational change presents an array of complex challenges. An inexperienced Project Manager simply doesn’t have the background or context needed to manage them as they arise. As a result, they can make decisions that unknowingly set themself and the initiative up for major problems or failure. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Not developing a scoping document to identify current business processes, business needs and resource requirements.
  • Underestimating project scope, resources and budget.
  • Failing to establish upfront clear expectations regarding the deliverables of the initiative, and the specific deliverables they are responsible for.
  • Not identifying priority tasks, responsibilities, deadlines, and timelines for the activation of required resources.
  • Ignoring the importance of a formal launch.
  • Disregarding the importance to establish an ongoing communication strategy to engage with and communicate with project teams and stakeholders.
  • Allowing scope creep to occur to satisfy ad hoc whims of executives.
  • Resorting to communication through email or memos as the primary method of communication. This sometimes occurs when a challenge emerges with stakeholders or employees, instead of having a face-to-face discussion. (While written documentation is important to summarize meeting notes, however it is no substitute for face-to-face communication to resolve issues.)
  • Initiating high drama when they encounter an employee who is being difficult or intransigent. (Contrast this to investing time to listen and then speak to the employee’s concern.)
  • Not recognizing the legitimate efforts and sacrifices being made by staff to support the development and implementation of the initiative.

What Are The Essential Qualities of an Experienced Project Manager?

(1) Degree of Technical Proficiency

A Project Manager needs to have some degree of technical knowledge of the area they are working in. They just can’t be someone that views their role as a custodian of process charts and a scheduler of meetings. For example, they need to have actual project management experience implementing major software systems, retooling sales organizations, or implementing performance management systems. Their experience also provides them with credibility when they speak, and context when they encounter challenges.

With this backdrop of experience, they are intuitively aware of the many issues and potential mistakes that are unique to the transformational change they are working on. More importantly, they will foresee smoldering issues that if not handled properly and dealt with immediately, inevitably become major problems.

(2) Emotional Maturity

An experienced Project Manager wears many hats. They do not fluster or intimidate easily. They have a mature perspective on their role and on what needs to occur to be successful. This provides a grounding to their approach and an unshakable tenacity. They understand that people, regardless of their titles can react differently to change. For example, the types of issues that often manifest with employees differ between Non-Measured and Measured Impact change.

Some employees involved as Helpers in Non-Measured Impact change, will always express issues regarding increased workload, concerns about performance, and general uncertainty. So, the Project Manager needs to tactfully acknowledge the situation, and if in their opinion the complaints are legitimate, they flag it as an issue and point of discussion with the executive responsible. It is then up to the executive and their manager(s) to develop workarounds to address the situation.

Employees involved as Helpers and Users in Measured-Impact change, will inevitably express reservations regarding the change initiative. Some will say there is no need for the change. Others will say that they will lose customers, and that employees will leave. These are standard comments that an experienced Project Manager understands. Then drawing on their past experiences, they share with the employee that their feelings are very common. As well, they should communicate how the company is taking the right approach and has their back. It is important to be emotionally mature and not become defensive or over react when encountering negative feedback. While in the end it is not the Project Manager’s responsibility to deal with employees issues (this is the role of managers and executives), they play an instrumental role as an ambassador during the transformation.

(3) Political Savviness (Skills and Suasion)

While the technical aspects of this role are demanding, managing the human relations side with executives and managers is equally important. A skilled Project Manager knows how to speak, guide, and direct individuals they have no formal authority over. As well, they need to have the skills to tactfully push back at individuals from all levels within the organization, when required. They do this by drawing upon and leveraging their extensive background (and many experiences), while ensuring that the person they are speaking with understands that they are there to help them. In addition, they also need to be able to de-escalate tense situations should they arise.

Patience and tenacity are criteria for this role and can make the difference between a successful or failed initiative.

Setting The Project Manager Up For Success

One critical prerequisite to support the Project Manager in their role, is for the CEO to clearly establish and communicate to the executive group that the Project Manager’s role is to ensure successful design and implementation of the initiative. They are not accountable for the successful adoption of the initiative. Many organizations make the mistake to put the onus on the Project Manager to gain executive and managerial support, and to be responsible if the initiative does not succeed. This is flawed thinking and rarely works. It also hides an uncomfortable truth that no one speaks about. This approach is used as political cover to protect leadership if the initiative ultimately fails.

If an organization is serious about the need to implement transformational change, the CEO will place accountability where it belongs — with the Operational Executive(s) who are ultimately responsible for its adoption, ongoing operational results and success. Making this abundantly clear from the outset establishes that the executives and their departments are to be actively engaged. Without this resolute approach and commitment, no amount of project management experience or tools can overcome indifference or resistance to implementing change. When leadership and management are actively involved in supporting transformational change, the success rate increases.

In the next blog , I will review the pitfalls involved with the vendor review process.

This article is based on my forthcoming book Rethinking Change Management; How To Implement Transformational Change For Long Term Success, which will be publishing later this year. If you find this article helpful, please share and subscribe to our blogs and newsletter. Stay tuned for further details.

Also share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Originally published at https://www.tc-oc.com on March 18, 2022.

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Helping CEOs and companies make sense of the consulting maze of “change management”. Check out my blogs at http://www.tc-oc.com.

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Peter Smith

Peter Smith

Helping CEOs and companies make sense of the consulting maze of “change management”. Check out my blogs at http://www.tc-oc.com.

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