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Demonstrating a Culture Change

By Eileen Strider

You want to introduce a change into your project’s culture? How do you do this in a way that gives you some hope of success? Well,  no two organizations’ cultures are exactly alike. No two projects are exactly the same.  Because each culture change is unique, we can’t give you an out-of-the-box recipe. So we’ll give you two examples, followed by some general principles you can use. These principles can help you introduce a change in a way your organization can accept, is able to try and won’t kill with resistance.

This blog was written at the request of listeners to our podcast “Five Aspects of Culture That Can Impact Your Project”. Listen now on Blog Talk Radio

Let’s start with an example of how NOT to introduce a change. Then we’ll follow up with a successful example. And last but not least, give you some general principals for how to go about it.

A Bad Fit Example

A client asked us to help him interview candidates for a senior project management position in his organization. After each interview we gave him our feedback. One of the candidates looked great on paper. He had a track record as a successful project manager in the manufacturing industry. He had his PMP certification and Six Sigma Black Belt certification. When we interviewed him, he described how he would approach the job of improving the staff’s project management and quality by introducing project methodology, discipline and metrics to the organization. We had worked with this organization and knew that their culture did not value project management, measured very little and valued individual freedom over discipline. So, our interview feedback to the client was a recommendation not to hire him because although he was an experienced and skilled professional, his style and approach would not be a good fit for their organization. The client said “Well, we need to get more disciplined and skilled about projects here, so I’m going to hire him.” Well, he lasted 6 weeks on the job. The way he introduced change rubbed people the wrong way and they resisted. He found it hard to believe that his approach, which worked so well in manufacturing, didn’t work well in this organization. Notice that the person who hired him to change the organization did not have to change himself! The people who worked on projects did.

A Design to Fit Example

Here’s a successful example of introducing a culture change.  We were doing some work with an IT organization in higher education. The CIO asked us if we could help them understand how a project had failed to deliver the expected results, which they still needed. We recommended doing a project retrospective. We knew they did not have a project management culture and this would be their first retrospective. We also knew that they had difficulty working across functional departments and that there had been some blaming on this project. So, we met individually and privately with each person involved, asking them about their role on the project, explaining the retrospective process we would use, that no blaming would be involved and invited them to attend. This wasn’t just a courtesy. It was to allow us to hear about their experience on this project , what they hoped could happen in the retrospective and to increase their feeling of safety with us coming into the retrospective. We shortened and simplified our retrospective process to make this change a little easier for them to swallow. Read more

Kansas DMV Project Debacle

Waiting Line

I don’t live in Kansas but I live close enough to Kansas to read and hear about their Department of Motor Vehicle replacement system project problems. From my perspective, the problems they encountered are not unique to Kansas. It’s just that their system go-live is recent enough and disastrous enough to make headlines. Does this sound familiar to you?

  • A 3 year project funded with $40M from the state and a $4.00 computer modernization fee.
  • Sold to the public by creating this expectation:  “Our ultimate goal is improved customer service and efficiency.” The new system was to “improve how services are delivered to drivers and vehicle owners throughout Kansas.”
  • A fixed-cost contract with the option to assess penalties on the vendor for delays.
  • Extensive customization of the selected vendor’s software.
  • Nearly a one year delay in the system rollout.
  • One month before go-live, the Director of Vehicles wrote “With a little bit of planning the upgrade will not be a major problem for Kansas”.
  • Went live on May 7, 2012.
So what happened when the new system went live? Read more
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