This special episode of the podcast is a live recording of a panel discussion on “the issues transforming the project and portfolio management industry”.
The recording is from a seminar which included guest speakers Sarah Malin, Head of Programme Management, CityFibre; Pat Beattie, Director, PwC; Joe Flynn, Senior Director – Client Engagement, Cora Systems; and was moderated by Caitriona Gately, host of the Project Management Paradise Podcast.
Our panel speakers discuss project management issues such as budgeting, the toughest parts in navigating change, dealing with “resisters” and “engagers” and the interpersonal skills needed to drive culture change in an organisation.
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Transcript: Episode 99 – “Issues Transforming Project and Portfolio Management Industry”
What was the toughest part of the eight steps to navigate change?
Pat: The one that I have already reflected on and someone was asking me earlier on in terms of some of the projects I have been on and how long have you been on them. The longest program I’ve been on with a client is 3 years and that was a program of significant size and restructuring in the nuclear industry in the UK.
And I think the thing that I find over some of those big ones is institutionalizing the change, so you get the take it through, you get it to a point, you’ve delivered what you believe is the answer but actually it has a tendency to slip back if you haven’t really fully institutionalized it in a way that people accept it and it sticks. That’s where it starts to fall apart.
You can feel like a temporary victory, you sort of think you’ve got over, you’ve delivered and I think the biggest challenge that we see and lots of clients will say the same, is do you really fully realize the value, actually what they see is the dissipation of that value, dissipation of benefits and the change over time once you declared a victory.
Actually, it can slip back and it’s that hard because it’s really about the culture, about the behaviors, it’s about the people, have they really believed it or did they just played along until you felt it was delivered or that the burning platform has changed. I think that’s typically what we see. That’s the biggest and the hardest and I think that’s again, how do you change that, has how do you solve that, how do you address it. Again, it’s that long-term, longer buying and the heart’s and mind’s piece.
Given the scope for your program now at this stage, can you tell us a little about the strategy of change in a part of such as yours, across the whole national network, where you got different approaches, different ways of doing things, but ultimately the same goal?
Sarah: One of the key problems that we’ve got is that we’ve got a very agile workforce. CityFibre started out probably about a year ago with 50 to 60 people and now over 300 people and in the next year, two years we will double and double again, given the size what we doing across the UK. One of the key problems we struggle with is because everyone is so agile and so used to work is actually controlling some of that change.
Everyone’s hellbent and going forward, they want to do it and that’s the keen to get going, but actually put in that control and to make sure it’s done in the right way, in the right sequence has actually been the hardest thing. And things live or die by the way you manage change, the way you bring people forward.
And we’re in one of those critical points you’ve got so many people going through this change and doing it in the right way and making sure everyone’s working in the same way. It is organization-wide so this is a complete transformation of the organization. For me, it’s harnessing it, we’ve got a lot of very enthusiastic people but equally, I’ve come from a place where no one wants to change and they like the way they do it, and it’s harder.
I think, absolutely, for me, my current challenges, harnessing that, but going back to what makes it successful buy-in at a strategic level. You know, running a PMO absolutely instantiating any sort of change, absolutely it needs sponsorship from top to bottom, it won’t happen otherwise.
When you meet somebody in the pat position, how can you propose to them how they can make these two ends meet when there are “resisters” and the “engagers”?
Joe: For us, one of the things we’re doing, you are often dealing at the corporate level with failing risk in delivering programs, people are moving from the comfort zone to somewhere in the stretch area and it’s trying to bring that organization together. We would work pretty closely with the client in the early stages in mapping the journey.
I use the journey quite a lot, people and their customers, prospective customers know, because we try and do that in a very fast and effective timeline with the client. With some clients, we’ve got four or five phases of the journey and what we try to do is get them to a base at phase one that helps initiate and drive that change, as well. You’re moving into new work practice, work change, so there’s quite a lot of work in that.
What you want to do is to reduce the timeline to deliver that, too, so you avoid the wariness and the increase of the failing risk that often happens in the corporate work. The other big thing we do is we also spent a lot of time with executives because, particularly in the PPM space, it’s now getting the board level people out of directors of programs, directors of projects, PMOs reporting to CEOs which is a really good development. That visibility gives the insights to the executive team what’s happening and are the right things happening.
What interpersonal skills are vital for someone to have in order to help drive culture change?
Pat: The biggest thing we try to coach our team and staff is empathy, to actually be able to see the client’s problem through their shoes. Actually, only then you can appreciate the challenges and difficulties that they’re facing, both on an organizational level, but also on a personal level. It’s only through that understanding you can actually diagnose and help.
I think the risk is quite often the perception of the consultancy is okay, but criticize in my own industry, as we come with predefined ideas on toolbox is essentially is a bit standard and a bit methodical. It’s actually just, you are still dealing with people, you still have to think of it around people and it’s actually been able to engage with people at the personal level and think about the problems that they face from that perspective.
What’s the most important aspect I learned as a young graduate was, coming into our business, is having that empathy, having that respect for the client and really understand their business before you start giving advice.
How much should one budget as a percentage on a project for a change?
Sarah: I would say it’s never enough. We’re as guilty as everyone else, by the way, I’m probably not going to give you the answer to that because I’m as guilty as everyone else of not putting continuance in change budget in there because it’s one of those things you put in the bottom drawer and think about when it’s gone wrong.
But we try to look at sort of the contingency budget of about 3% on all our projects but I would almost if I had my way for another 3 to 5% on it just manage to change. Because it’s critical and we have gone down the route now we have actually taken on a permanent change manager because it is so critical and we know what we need to do across the organization and we can’t leave it to chance. Invest as much as possible would be my advice in that direction.
What is Cora’s partnership with PWC?
Joe: A part of our growth platform is to work out with partners and then to talk more with the partnership world. We met PWC probably two years ago and built up a relationship with them in the UK practice and they have, I suppose, with different symbols PPM practice so from my point of view there was a synergy there.
They felt we had a very consultative way and going about our solutions and projects. Over time, then, we ran a pilot and we implemented it and we had conversations developed around how to work in the UK market together and broader markets. That led to the partnership been signed in July this year.
Pat: We, as a business, thinking through two lenses, one is us using it for ourselves and very much is how we deliver both, internal projects but also projects we are delivering with our clients or to our clients. That part of us that we are digitizing ourselves, being more methodical and consistent, industrializing a bit more rather than reinventing the wheel.
The second piece for us is also, it is good practice and we advise clients and we want to go to market with something that is the best in class but there are lots of other technologies out there. The key for us was it was a number of characteristics and we evaluate and come across all the time. And there was the Cora product that was a unique and that’s important because obviously there are specific areas we see and I work across from capital projects, roads, infrastructure etc. right down to business change projects and the ability of Cora to build and operate across all of that is significant.
We wanted to partner with somebody who actually understood, from a really deep perspective, not only from the technology but also the plan that is applied. We also partner with Google and Google are not an easy company because they are product driven. They say, here is our product, you can take it, that’s it.
With Cora it is more consultative, it is very much a partnership, it’s about what can we do to help solve your problems through our platform and it is a platform. That was differentiating and is something that we felt, from a partnership perspective, it was much more compelling. We say it is something that will make us better, but it is also something we think will help our clients be better. So, it is a mutually beneficial partnership and we see that have been something very strong and differentiating in going forward.
How do you coordinate the different levels of approach and engagement across different departments, working with the local authorities, working with the local business system, development areas and your own personal?
Sarah: As I said earlier, we have got over 300 people in the organization and 80 to 90 percent of our organization is involved in those projects one way or another. And those projects and programs range from delivering public sector networks to long distance network deals with the carriers. All of those have, across the organization there’s a lot of interaction with other OPs team, our service team and also our sales organization.
So, having a platform such as Cora PPM to enable visibility and to be able to work across all of those departments is critical for us. We’re not very good at it and otherwise, it’s paper basis, a lot of emails and you don’t get consistent messaging, communication’s very difficult. One of the things that we’ve been working with ourselves over is absolutely driving that engagement governance model across our own organization.
What we’re currently looking at is how we now sort of push that out into our engagement with both local councils and our customers, so we have stakeholders who we are very reliant on in terms of noticing, getting into towns and all the things we know from a construction side. But equally we’ve got a lot of customers out there who might be utility carriers, we’re a wholesaler ourselves, so we have to have the ability to manage to the updates and communications to those stakeholders consistently.
Again, we’ve struggled with it, it is, from a company perspective, it’s going through a huge change cycling and growth cycle, but absolutely the flexibility and the products that we have been testing, actually it gives us a view of how we can create that sort of consistent messaging and communication across all of those departments and stakeholders.
But what happens when a project sponsor is your greatest obstacle to change?
Pat: I suppose there is a point we actually say if you do not have the conditions for success then why proceed because unless you do get that sponsor. It wouldn’t be the first time that we have stopped projects or walked away from projects if we felt the sponsorship and the sponsor wasn’t the right person because we view it from the outside of that was always going to be undermined because it’s not just their actions, it’s actually the perception of the program and the wider business as to – well, are they really serious about it if they’ve got the wrong person in charge of it?
It’s the inference, shall we say sometimes if you’ve got the wrong sponsor, not just as to say, their actions. If you determined to turn it around, so we say you are going to have to try and do a change piece on the sponsor. We have quite often as you say if we’ve been told that has to be the person and sometimes the sponsor is part of the problem and therefore they been imposed given the problems, so they are bought in.
We have had those circumstances as well and quite often that means quite a lot of one-on-one working through why they have may have been resistant, why they may have their own challenges. Again, it comes back through some of the things in terms of the personal things, in terms of what are they losing, what are they defending. Sometimes, here’s an example, we were doing a large global engineering firm and the individuals themselves were as a part of the simplification of the business and all of these people were regional heads and essentially this was turkeys voting for Christmas.
Part of this simplification was that they were no longer going to be regional heads, they were going to lose their power and position. So, actually bringing them into the program with part and parcel of getting them bought in to a lot of that change. Now that took a huge amount of effort and took some people didn’t come through it, we know it was almost part of the change was some people because it didn’t get on board left the program.
If you have to work through it, you will have to work through it and not everybody succeeds in coming to that change but if you impose somebody and you think that there’s no other alternative I think sometimes it’s worth of questioning, is the program worth continuing with.
Is the PPM product implementation in the cloud or on-premise?
Joe: It is available on the cloud and on-premise, so it’s up to the client’s discretion. So, we have clients in the audience who are in the cloud and we also have clients who had to install for various reasons of data security or IT process and governance that systems must be implemented in-house, so we do both.
How do you measure a change manager’s performance in value terms?
Sarah: For me, it’s around people’s engagement, so simplistically to start with I’d be looking at people surveys and looking at how people are connected to the organization, how well they are dealing with those change cycle. So, typically that’s where I’d start and that’s where we are starting in terms of our change journey.
Pat: It’s an art form, because you write pulse surveys in terms of the level of engagement scores, but also we talk about noise score, how much noise has been generated because there is sometimes negative noise coming out of the business. But there are some leading indicators we talk about in terms of engagement of staff people turning up to meetings, not turning up the speed of decision-making with given the right type of people etc.
It’s the change manager’s job to try and make sure that runs smoothly. Change management is being the oil and project management it is some factors are not running change is how well and effective is the project because they are lubricating some of the mechanisms that make them successful.