I had an interesting discussion with an old colleague and friend recently about some problems she is having managing a project to implement a new CRM system. Not untypically there is some resistance to using the new system – after all many people simply don’t like change and are not easily convinced of the benefits of something new particularly when the benefits are intangible, but in this case much of the resistance is coming from the so-called stakeholders; those who should stand to benefit most.
The new system is designed to ensure the organisation make the most of all the information they hold about existing and potential customers and is backed up by a rigorously tested database containing detailed information about all their leads. In theory this is a great opportunity for the company to gain new customers and to understand their existing customers better so they can offer better customer service. What’s not to like?
The project team running the rollout are busy training the sales staff on the ground and doing a great job promoting the benefits of the new system to the people who will actually use it but whilst that is running smoothly in the background there are some major issues that the project manager has to worry about with the stakeholders.
It is often assumed in projects that the stakeholders are the driving force behind the project – the people that stand to gain most from a successful outcome. But what happens when the project has been imposed on the “stakeholders”, the organisation is making multiple redundancies across the board (so everyone is fearful of losing their jobs) and there is an insidious blame culture.
In an attempt to offer a way forward to my old friend we discussed the main problem areas of this particular project. It made me realise that I often write about project management from the perspective of the ideal project environment and, whilst I know from my own experience that no project environment is ideal, this particular project made me realise just how far from ideal some projects are.
What is the Purpose of Communication?
One of the main areas that need resolving is the series of lengthy meetings that are giving the impression of everyone being busy without actually achieving anything concrete (does that sound familiar?). Surprisingly, in a world of excellent video conferencing facilities people from across the UK regularly travel many hundreds of miles to have face-to-face meetings with their counterparts from different regions. We all recognise the value of face-to-face meetings in contributing to project success but those meetings should have a purpose. When quizzed about the purpose of these meetings my friend, the project manager, was a bit hazy. Surely you have an agenda at these meetings? With just a day to go to the next meeting no agenda has been distributed and yet flights, trains and hotels have all been booked when no-one is really sure of the purpose of the meeting except (let’s hope) the person who has organised it.
It seemed like fairly basic advice to give an experienced project manager to request a detailed agenda prior to the event and a clear statement of what the group expected to achieve in the meeting but it seems that the objective of the project is being lost amongst the detritus of in-fighting between the regions.
Keep Personalities & Politics Out Of It
It is so easy to de-rail a project when different regions, departments or individuals have their own agendas and it takes a strong-willed and confident project manager to stay calm when others are arguing, back-stabbing and criticising the project. But stay calm you must and put your own personal feelings aside – after all you are paid to get a job done, not necessarily to like your work colleagues. Of course, it helps if you can get along personally with colleagues but a professional project manager should also know how to work with those they don’t personally like. I suspect my friend was getting too personally involved in the situation.
It is hard not to retaliate if someone is criticising a project that you and your team are working extremely hard on but take a step back and think why? What are the reasons for someone to openly criticise a new project or system – in this particular case it turns out that there is a new, but senior, Sales Director who is unfamiliar with the system that has been some years in the making – he lacks the in-depth knowledge of the other stakeholders so criticises instead of revealing his lack of knowledge. Another stakeholder seems to be worried about his job as many of his counterparts in other regions have lost theirs.
Of course, none of this is the project manager’s fault but if the project is to be a success then these stakeholders have to be brought on board – this is where a project manager can tactfully and diplomatically tackle the personal issues. This is not an easy task but who was it who said a project manager is all things to all people?
Know Who Is In Charge
Perhaps most surprisingly of all I discovered that there is, in fact, no single project manager with overall control of the project. Each region has its own project manager and none have been appointed as the person in overall control. When I’d lifted my jaw back up off the floor all I could think was how lucky I am not to be involved in that particular project!
So here’s a project with no one person in control, stakeholders who are trying to dis-credit the project because of their own personal fears and inadequacies and all the while they are travelling the length and breadth of the country to talk in meetings that have no known purpose. If there was ever a case for a rigorous project management framework this must surely be it.
Are you involved in a project with such fundamental flaws – maybe one even worse than the one I describe above? Why not let us know – talking may help to put some perspective on the situation!
Michelle Symonds has many years’ experience in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking working on complex global projects and managing overseas project teams. She is now a freelance consultant specialising in search engine optimisation and content writing for businesses such as Parallel Project Training and is also editor of the Project Accelerator Project Management News website.