Apr 18, 2011

"A Culture for Project Recovery"

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin in Culture & Change Management, Project & Program Management, Project Failure & Recovery, Project Management Research | 1 Comment

There were so many great questions asked in the webinar on project recovery presented by Kent Crawford in March that he ran out of time to answer them all. The remaining questions - and recorded answers - are posted on our new Project Recovery Resource Center.

As I listened to the questions and answers, one particular question struck me as illuminating ... in fact, downright inspirational. That's right - the question itself. Although we tend to always want answers - and the more cut and dried, the better - I find that real potential for change and growth often lies in asking the right questions. In this case, the questioner asked:

What would your advice be for an organization too small for a ''formal'' recovery process? ... Can we start by building a culture for project recovery, rather than a process?"

To begin with, our research showed that a process didn't have to be formal to be effective. Even companies with informal processes fared better at recovering troubled projects than those without. And although Kent didn't say so, I imagine he had the same initial thought that I did: implementing a process is way, way simpler than changing a culture! Plus, in many ways, it is in processes that cultures express themselves. Culture - that "software of the mind" - is often more about the how and why of life, rather than the mere what.

But, in his response, he touched on what a "culture for project recovery" might look like, and a big part of that is taking time to reflect. In the headlong rush towards a deadline, such time is often denied to us. Yet, as Kent pointed out, when you consider the wasted time and money that is poured into the all-too-common two-month project that drags on for a year and ends up being cancelled anyway, that time for reflection can be - to steal a phrase - "the pause that refreshes."

A culture supportive of project recovery, then, would be one that not only permitted, but encouraged periodic sessions of thinking and rethinking: of remembering why we set out to do the project, not just what we need to do today. Of revisioning the path to success. And, it would be one in which the contrarian voice - the one that says, "yeah, we might be on schedule, but we are making the wrong product for the market" - is not only welcomed, but valued.

That's a tall order. Yet, in small organizations, such as the questioner's, it may be achievable. And since small organizations far outnumber the giants, when they alter their cultures, they can have a significant effect on "business as usual."


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    1 Comment on “A Culture for Project Recovery”

    Debbie Bigelow Crawford says:

    I do think that recovery percentages HAVE to be greater within a culture that does not PUNISH the messenger.  The cultural environment almost needs to reward those who have the integrity to draw attention to a flailing project.  But that is a fine line for any organization.  You don’t want to start rewarding the wrong behavior either.  Having PMs actually getting a sense of pride that they’ve called out a failing project.  Such a “Catch 22”....

    Posted on April 18, 2011 at 8:17 pm

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