Implementing Change through Projects -- What are the Common Mistakes?

An impressive new book by Jeremy Nicholls, entitled The Everyday Project Manager: A Primer for Learning the Principles of Successful Project Management, explores the key attributes and skills of successful project management and describes the practical skills that will enhance project delivery regardless of your level of experience. In addition, Jeremy posits that success and survival in business relies on change and the way that business implements change is through projects.

At the beginning of the month, I spoke to Jeremy about his book and asked him: "What are the common mistakes made when trying to implement change through projects?" Here is his full answer:

Understanding the Context for Change

In the enthusiasm to get going and DO SOMETHING, organizations frequently fail to set a project within the wider business and strategic context.  Change via projects is easiest to implement, and more effective when it aligns with the overall background of change.  By considering the broader organizational goals and – importantly – how your project aligns to those goals, you will be better able to articulate the drivers for change.  This increases buy-in and significantly improves your change implementation.  When you think about it, this applies to personal projects too – your project to decorate the bedroom might be a great idea, but if your partner’s plan is to sell the house next year, they won’t support your change.

Identifying Champions

For change to be implemented most effectively, you require support up and down the organization. It seems to be stating the obvious to say that the more people who are championing your project, the more likely it is to succeed, but it is frequently overlooked. When people deliver projects, they tend to get very caught up in the nuts and bolts of the delivery itself.  It’s a different skill set, but one that the best project managers have, to get out there and engage with stakeholders and bring people along for the journey.  Your project sponsor is the key here; if they are not excited about the project outcome then there’s no reason anyone else should be.  But the main point is don’t just be a project manager – be a project cheerleader!

Get the Basics Right

There will be certain points during a change project where things get exciting.  This can be for a good, expected reason (the much-anticipated go-live), or a not-so-good, unexpected reason (an issue that threatens to derail the project).  In either case, when the temperature of the project gets to fever pitch, the first things to get side-lined are often the good (but not quite as exciting) practices that keep a project on track.  Stay focused on the objectives; remember the reasons for doing the project in the first place.  Avoid the tendency, to throw the baby out with the bathwater when the project hits a bump.  Go back to first principles, take a breath, and keep going.

What are your thoughts on Jeremy's perspective? Has your company been successful implementing change through projects? What attributes do you think compose a successful project manager?