Change Management Lessons from the Animal Kingdom

My recreational reading this week has been Temple Grandin‘s Animals Make Us Human. (Don’t worry, it’s not another animal post from Skeptechal!) I’ve found lots of great insights that will help me figure out why my cat behaves in ways that have been puzzling (although I am sure she will keep me guessing). Some of the lessons from the animal world are really reshaping some of my entrenched thinking about organizational change management.

Much of Grandin’s approach to more humane animal handling boils down to preventing the rage, fear and panic responses, and promoting seeking (curiosity) and play behaviors.

When we think about some of the typical overt and inadvertent messages that many companies release in the course of launching a big business initiative (be it a new ERP system, an acquisition, or an internal reorganization) we see much that is likely to press those rage, fear and panic buttons right out of the gate.  Once these responses are in play, they are difficult to quell:
rage

Welcome to the core team! You will need to spend 20 hours per week for the next nine months getting our new software ready for release. We know you will be able to work this into your schedules along with your current day job.

fear

Here is the course outline for your job role (5 pages, 55 unique system tasks). We have one training session for your group (53 people), with 1 hour allotted this Thursday.

 

panic

We haven’t had time to complete the testing but we only have a small launch window, so we are going live this weekend as originally planned.

You get the idea.

What if we approached things differently….and used early messages and techniques to promote curiosity and made even a small effort to make things fun:

  • Instead of the typical big bang kickoff (complete with bulky boring  slide deck) use internal social media tools like Yammer and Sharepoint to build excitement — dropping hints about how things will change for the better, without revealing all the details.
  • Use gamification and crowdsourcing to augment formal software QA processes, rewarding people for completing their test cases on time, or naming winners for finding the must bugs
  • Show users how to interact with the new system to get answers to their everyday questions BEFORE teaching them to plow through lengthy transactions

If we turn on the seeking and play behaviors first, we may have a good shot at keeping fear, panic and rage to a minimum.

PMOs and Business Strategy

cogsFor most organizations, the Project Management Office (PMO) is simply a centralized organizational structure for standardizing practices used in the delivery of their projects.  An effective PMO allows these organizations to more consistently deliver successful projects.

For some high-performing organization, the PMO is able to achieve much more.  It is able to help the organization drive and achieve its business strategy.  So how can something as boring and ordinary as good project management become a key to organizational success?

First, let’s think about the planning process.  Successful organizations define their goals and their plans for meeting those goals using some type of strategic planning process.  As a goal (e.g. achieve 5% organic growth) is refined into a strategy (e.g. by attracting more customers through a better customer experience), strategic and tactical projects emerge (e.g. redesign customer portal to improve ease-of-doing-business).

A mature, fully-engaged PMO becomes the keeper of the project portfolio.  If the PMO understands the strategy that the organization is striving to achieve, the PMO can use this understanding as it manages the project portfolio to drive that strategy.  First, and most critically, the PMO ensures that key, business-critical projects are delivered successfully.  It also ensures that project success is aligned with and measured against the strategic goals that the project is defined to address.  The PMO works with the project teams to define KPIs that clearly tie to the organization’s strategy.  If a project can’t be tied to the strategy, the organization can then determine if the project fits into the portfolio.  Similarly, the PMO can be used to resolve priority conflicts between projects, helping to clarify situations where the strategy may be at odds with itself.

More pro-actively, the PMO can forecast capacity, helping the organization understand how much change it can realistically undertake within a given budget or timeframe.  The PMO can also see and exploit synergies between projects, helping the organization take advantage of unexpected opportunities.  For example, given its view of the project portfolio the PMO may see how a service being built to support one project can be utilized to simplify or enhance another project.  Finally, the PMO provides a feedback loop, informing the organization of its progress against its strategic goals and allowing it to take early, corrective action when progress lags or goals shift.

Thus, a PMO becomes a crucial management tool for implementing the organization’s strategy.  Organizations that are able to effectively use this tool are better able to achieve their organizational goals and thus continue to thrive.  In today’s competitive and challenging environment, can any organization afford not to take full advantage of a PMO?