≡ Menu

Managing Change on Projects“We have to get them to want what we have to deliver,” said Dr. James T. Brown at the PMI UK Chapter event Synergy earlier this month. “We have to go through this process to prove you are a good person and to make them anticipate the deliverable.”

He was talking about wooing.

It’s what project managers have to do to get stakeholders on side for their projects and to make change successful. “Wooing,” he continued, “is not a step function. You don’t implement it and you get it.” It takes time and effort to build relationships that result in stakeholders getting excited about your project and prepared to deal with the work it takes to change.

The three steps of change management

James said that there were many change models but he subscribes to Kurt Lewin’s Freeze Phases:

  1. Unfreeze: recognise the need for change
  2. Do the change: deploy project, deliver change, transition to new way of working
  3. Refreeze: fix everyone in the new way of doing things.

It’s an easy model but one that you have to apply if you want your project deliverables to really stick.

“There’s no magic here,” he said. “It’s not complex. Project management is not difficult. The difficulty is in applying the discipline of common sense.”

Communicate aggressively with stakeholders

Wherever you have unknowns, people will imagine the worst and will act as if the worst is going to happen, he explained. People don’t care if the change is for the good of the organisation: when something big is happening they only care about what it means for them. James stressed the importance of communication: “Communicate aggressively,” he said. “Provide continual reassurance.”

Stakeholder communication should be:

  • Regular: planned in the diary already
  • Personal: take the time to meet every stakeholder while the project is going well so that if something does go wrong you aren’t meeting them for the first time to share bad news
  • Balanced: don’t only communicate bad news; share successes as well.

Getting stakeholders ready for the journey

“Project management is not difficult. The difficulty is in applying the discipline of common sense.”

James T. Brown

Think about how you are going to help your project stakeholders on the journey. They will need training on the new deliverables or solution you are implementing but how about also:

  • Training them on the project methodology
  • Talking to them about requirements creation and management
  • Making organisational roles and responsibilities clear
  • Working through changing business processes.

These all make them feel more comfortable about how they are going to get to their new state. That helps them feel more secure about the change and how it will be achieved.

He also recommended listening to everything, especially the things you can’t change or control as sometimes people just want to be heard.

Plan for success

Finally, James talked about concrete steps to take to bring people along with the change, ending with planning for acceptance. This final stage on the change management journey helps people see that you have reached then end and that the new ways of working are finally here.

Set up a mentoring programme and ensure they have all had their training on the deliverables and are ready to use them. It’s also important to acknowledge what the end of the project is going to look like and how you’ll know if you have been successful. Set and communicate project success criteria to measure yourself against (read more about how to define project success criteria here).

Whatever you are doing, ensuring good stakeholder communication and change management on your project will help you be more successful. As James said, there is plenty of theory and practice to draw from but “nothing beats knowledge and judgement.” Apply these wisely and your project stakeholders will thank you for it.


Leave a Comment

Project managing the freezerThe house is in crisis. The middle pages of Percy And The Kite have fallen out. Without the mid-section, you have no way of knowing how Percy fares in the kite contest although he does look (spoiler alert) very pleased on the final page. The final page is sticky-taped to the back cover. That one also fell out and was repaired.

I look for the missing pages under the wardrobe, under the cot, under the changing table. I look in the book basket, in the toy box, in the bag of pram essentials we take with us everywhere. Jack runs around the house shouting, “Percy! Percy!” I never expected to feel so much anxiety over a green train. It isn’t even Thomas, for goodness sake.

The pages are eventually found in the laundry bin (of course, why didn’t I look there first?) and I repair the book (again) with tape that evening. It is on days like this that I am glad of our chest freezer.

Since moving out of London we have – to the envy of our friends – a garage. The garage is a place of wonder, housing the amazing tumble dryer and a bottomless chest freezer. These are the two gadgets that contribute the most to the smooth running of the house, not counting the TV remote and the kettle, which also do their fair share of helping us get through the day. I love the freezer and I’ve gone all project management-y about food and meal planning.

I’ve discovered Once A Month Meals and I’ve made a chart so that I can systematically review all the past menu planners and make a note of the ones I want to cook. I go through the site on my commute, then transfer my chosen recipe names to the monthly meal planning book. Each week, the lunch and dinner plans get transferred to the fridge door. That way, I’m always ahead of myself by about seven days and I don’t have any “What’s for dinner?” crises to deal with.

The best thing is that by making the portion sizes on OAMM there is always enough left over for the freezer. My aim is to have a pasta thing (like a pasta bake or sauce), a pastry thing (a pie or quiche), a bread thing (like calzone) and a risotto in the freezer at all times as a minimum.

It sounds regimented but it really isn’t. I swap meals in and out, change my mind, use up ingredients and flex the plan if we are out (not that we get invited or choose to go out spontaneously much anymore). It’s also really easy to put together the shopping list: review the meal plan for the upcoming week and shop accordingly.

I know this is way more planning than many families do but I enjoy it. I like feeling organised, at home and at work, and meal planning is just one more way to add enough structure and process to keep things manageable while allowing enough wiggle room for a change. Then on days where finding Percy is more important than cooking from scratch, there is the bountiful chest freezer and a grand choice for dinner.


Leave a Comment

Synergy 2014: Conference Highlights

Synergy UK 2014

“When what you do is not unique, the way that you do it makes the difference.”

That’s how Ricardo Triana, Chair of the 2014 PMI Board of Directors opened Synergy last Thursday. Synergy, organised by PMI’s UK Chapter, was attended by around 600 project managers from around Europe.

“Project management,” Ricardo went on to say, “is the way to create a difference.”

Making a difference by taking risks: Sir Tim Smit KBE

“The way you get yourself to do really interesting stuff is to put yourself in front of the people you respect the most and tell them you’re going to do it,” said Tim Smit, co-founder of the Eden Project. “The shame of not doing it gives you the energy to do it.”

He was an engaging speaker, talking for nearly an hour without slides or notes and I think by the end of it we all would have worked for him for free, like so many people on his regeneration projects. He had a lot of people on the Eden Project who had given up good jobs to work unpaid, pending confirmation of funding from the Millennium Commission.

The funding announcements were sent out. And they didn’t make the shortlist of funded projects.

Knowing he had a responsibility to his project team, Tim set up a press conference, complete with champagne and high profile media outlets. He made a short speech: “Millennium Commission: we love you!”

The next day there was a great editorial in The Times saying what a brave decision the Commission had taken to fund the project. Over the coming weeks, more media outlets looked forward to the opening of the Eden Project and praised the foresight and brilliance of the Commission. Over the following months, the Millennium Commission “reassessed” their decision. Eden got the funding it needed.

No one can say that Tim doesn’t believe in the projects he takes on. “When you get close to a brick wall, nine times out of ten there’s a door painted to look like bricks,” he said. “Take the risk and then you’re doing it: that makes it a lot less risky already.”

Building a culture of high performance: Jane Sparrow

Jane Sparrow, Managing Director at The Culture Builders, explained how to create a culture of high performing teams. “There is no magic Tinkerbell forumla,” she said. “It all comes down to small actions.”

She talked about two types of people: Savers, who do a good job for you, and Investors, who perform their best every day. In a highly performing tea you want Investors. You get them by carving out time to make people feel valued and by having clear views around:

  • What you believe: the vision and purpose
  • How you behave: ensuring what you say and what you do are consistent
  • What you use: making sure that the tools, processes and standards that support us are fit for purpose.

Synergy UK Photos

Developing resilience: Max McKeown

Max McKeown, a strategic advisor and author, drew his presentation on huge panels on the stage. Starting with a crisis in the middle, he drew backwards and forwards explaining how experiences in the past shaped responses to the present and how the future could be carved out by those willing to try new things.

“People respond in different ways to the same stimulus,” he said. “Be alert to the weak signals that alert you to things that are changing.” He shared some strategies for coping with what’s coming on the tidal wave of change:

  • Find someone who is “your personal jet ski” who can help you ride the wave
  • Maximise, accentuate and exaggerate problems to better prepare for them
  • Stop doing what doesn’t work.

“In times of great change make it acceptable to listen to the mavericks [in your business] and to act a bit more like them,” he said. “Strategy is the ability to shape the future. You don’t have to be surprised.”

Music and dancing: The Agile Blues Band and The Silent Conductor

My project vendor, she won’t give me a clear plan.

My project vendor, she won’t give me a clear plan.

If I can’t structure my work, then I don’t know where I stand.

My project management blues

OK, there wasn’t much dancing. We are project managers after all. There was a bit of swaying and some excited shuffling in chairs, and you wouldn’t normally expect that at a project management conference.

The Agile Blues Band helped us write our own project management blues song and then sang them (only one person was brave enough to sing her own song) during the breaks. Steve Barnett, The Silent Conductor, closed the event by leading the audience to create tunes without saying a word. Hitting the glass tumblers with sticks was my favourite part: it felt very much like something I shouldn’t be doing. Between the clapping, oooos, aahhhs, wows!, clicking fingers and rapping on the tables we made a passable attempt at music.

Not every presentation hit the top notes and the biscuit selection left something to be desired but it was a varied and interesting day. I wasn’t sure that the event committee could match last year’s event but they pulled it off. Can’t wait to see who they come up with for next year.


Leave a Comment

Jennifer Lawrence at Catching Fire premiere

Actress Jennifer Lawrence attends the ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on November 20, 2013 in New York City.

**Spoiler alerts** Don’t read this if you haven’t read the first book of The Hunger Games series.

It’s the UK general release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 this week. Selecting the team for the District, planning for the Games, sharing a clear objective. Sounds like project management, doesn’t it?

Here’s why project management is like surviving The Hunger Games.

Your project needs a generous sponsor

In the arena, tributes receive gifts from their sponsors. Little parachutes drop useful items to those that have popular appeal and a generous sponsor.

Your project needs a sponsor who can negotiate for the resources and time you need to secure the project done successfully. You’ll also benefit if you can get them to communicate with your team by sharing the project vision.

Your project needs a flexible plan

You never know when the environment in the arena might change. Suddenly it’s on fire, then it’s raining. The powers that be change the rules without any notice.

Projects have the same degree of uncertainty, so your plan needs to be flexible. Team members drop out or join in. You suddenly have less time to complete certain tasks. A flexible approach to scheduling and a good change management process will help you deal with the surprises.

You need a creative team

Katniss has Cinna and the team of stylists to help her prepare. Cinna’s creativity helps reshape and reinforce how the audiences at the Games feel about Katniss on several occasions, like when he designs a dress for the Victory Tour that honours the deaths of Thresh and Rue. I think it’s fair to say that his behind-the-scenes creative dressmaking helped her secure the win and the sympathies of people in other Districts.

A creative project team can also help you get out of tight situations. Use their expertise, build on constructive conflict and develop creative facilitation techniques to resolve project issues.

You need a mentor

All the tributes have mentors who have lived through their own trials. Katniss and Peeta have Haymitch as their mentor. As victor of the 50th Hunger Games and the only choice for District 12 tributes, they have to rely on his knowledge and experience.

You will probably have more choice when it comes to finding a mentor. A good mentor can help you navigate the challenges of your project and open doors to new opportunities.

You need to be resourceful

Katniss has to use her wits and stay resourceful. Berries, nuts, bowmanship: she uses what is available and never wastes anything.

Projects have limited resources. Don’t waste time or energy on things that aren’t important. Focus on the tasks and people that will help you achieve your overall objectives and deliver the project successfully.

Project management isn’t as violent as The Hunger Games, but it can certainly feel like a challenge at times. What do you do to stay sharp? Let us know in the comments.

1 comment

Leave a Comment

Free Project Meeting Agenda Template

Free project meeting agenda template

Looking for a free template to create an agenda for your project meetings? Look no further. Download an agenda template here:


Get the pdf version






Leave a Comment

Risk management doesn’t have to be difficult

Project risk management

“We try to convey the earnesty and legitimacy of risk management by communicating as if it were a science,” said Mark Engelhardt, senior lecturer at IIL, during his presentation at PMI Hungary’s Art of Projects conference last week. “The problem is that risk management is far from being a science in most of our industries.”

He said that no project management process is lived as it should be if the project team doesn’t understand the process, know how to implement it effectively and it is not supported by executive management.

“What’s the point of filling out anything if nobody’s going to do anything with it?” he asked. “You can’t implement a process or use the vocabulary if upper management doesn’t understand or use it.”

Why aren’t we doing risk management well?

Mark said that in his experience project managers don’t do risk management effectively because:

  • It’s too complicated
  • It’s too academic
  • It’s time consuming
  • Nobody cares
  • It’s a mighty scientific process that they don’t feel worthy to take part in
  • They don’t want to sound negative
  • They are intimidated by it.

There is key data missing, he said, in our ability to manage risk management as a science. We don’t always have:

  • Legitimate data
  • Historical data
  • Proper transparency
  • A culture of honesty
  • An understanding of risk sensitivity
  • An appreciation of the value of risk management

Airline, hotel and insurance industries take a scientific approach to risk management because they’ve got the data to support that. In projects, more often than not we don’t.

Ignoring risk management makes you look stupid

Awareness solves most of your problems.

– Mark Engelhardt

“You don’t have a choice about whether you’re going to look stupid on a project,” Mark said. “You can only decide when you are going to look stupid.” Your choices are at the beginning, when you ask lots of stupid questions, or at the end, when your project is struggling and someone asks why you didn’t see the problems coming.

“Awareness solves most of your problems,” Mark said. A problem is something that is not documented: it becomes a risk or issue once it is written down and is being actively managed. Talking about risk puts you in a better position to do something about them especially, as Mark pointed out, “most of our executives are too far remote from the rest of the team.”

Mark said that around 40% of the things we identify as risks actually fade away without project managers having to take any action at all. Another large chunk of the content on your risk register is a by-product of the ‘way we do things around here’ and you won’t be able to take any action because you are up against corporate culture. Only 3% of risks, he estimated, turn into something explosive.

Risk management is easy

At its simplest level, project risk management is straightforward. You don’t need Monte Carlo simulations or decision trees. You only need, Mark said, a spreadsheet with some columns covering:

  • An identifier
  • An explanation of the risk
  • The impact of the risk
  • The actions you are going to take
  • The name of the person owning the risk
  • The date you expect the action plan to be completed by.

That’s it.

The alternative is paralysis and a failure to adopt even simple risk management practices. The small action of talking about and documenting risk is better than doing nothing. “Sometimes guesswork is better than no risk management at all,” he said. “As long as you are acting on it it’s OK that there is risk out there.”

Do you opt for simple or more complicated risk management practices? Why? Let us know in the comments.


Leave a Comment

How to communicate in virtual teams: Hungarian PMs speak

I was in Budapest last Thursday for a fleeting visit – I spoke at the PMI Hungary Chapter’s Art of Projects conference for International Project Management Day (see some photos from the event here). I gave a presentation on social media use in virtual teams and also ran a workshop on virtual meetings. My fellow… Continue Reading->

PMI Hungary’s Art of Projects Conference: the view from Budapest

Starting with the big image and going clockwise: The MOM Cultural Centre which hosted the conference Chapter Chair introducing the day The amazing round room View from the balcony over Budapest Traditional Hungarian snacks: apple and cherry strudels Endre, Project Manager of the Year, receiving his prize One of the tomobola winners collecting a copy… Continue Reading->

Giveaway: Supercommunicator

Earlier this year I reviewed Supercommunicator: Explaining The Complicated So Anyone Can Understand by Frank J. Pietrucha. Now I have a copy to give away. Use the contact form to get in touch with the phrase "I'm a supercommunicator" by Wednesday 12 November 2014 and I will enter you into the draw. Normal giveaway rules… Continue Reading->

Book review: Trust in Virtual Teams

Trust matters because it helps build a resilient project team. It helps get things done. Trusted team members not only do only what is asked, but what the project needs them to do, because they know that the project manager will trust their decisions and actions.  Trust is a shortcut to better working relationships and… Continue Reading->

The Mr Tumble Approach to Project Management (The Parent Project Month 20)

I said we’d never resort to television while Jack is still under 2, it’s not good for his development, language learning, he’s too young, blah blah blah. But we’ve soon found out that the gap between the end of his nap around 4pm and tea at 5.30pm is awful. So hello, Mr Tumble. You are… Continue Reading->

Better stakeholder engagement: Interview with Oana Krogh-Nielsen

Oana Krogh-Nielsen, Head of PMO for the National Electrification Program at Banedanmark, is speaking at Nordic Project Zone next week and I was lucky enough to catch up with her to ask about the amazing projects she is working on. Here’s what she had to say. Hello Oana! Let’s get started: can you explain your… Continue Reading->