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Selling Project Managers on Consistent Project Practices

Congratulations – you’ve convinced your senior leadership that implementing a consistent approach to project management is a key step towards realizing your company’s strategic vision! 

Once your initial euphoria evaporates, you’ll come to realize that you’ve only won the first battle in a long campaign – now you have to win the hearts & minds of the project managers.  This can be quite a challenge as the project managers will likely experience the greatest change to their normal routine.

This concern feels counter-intuitive – project managers should be opponents of entropy and surely there is no better method of bringing order to organizational chaos than by instituting consistent practices?  This assumption ignores a few basic truths:

  1. Project managers are usually overworked and their focus is usually on delivering their projects successfully under tight constraints.
  2. Process change (regardless of the benefits) usually reduces productivity for a short period of time until the change is fully assimilated.  The rare exception to this is if the benefit of the change will immediately offset the effort lost in learning and adopting the new practices.
  3. Even if the two preceding points don’t apply, most experienced project managers have honed their own tools and techniques over a period of time and might be hesitant about adopting new practices.

As with most “soft” change management challenges, there is no silver bullet, so a combination of the following techniques should help.

  1. Engage – no one wants to adopt a change that they haven’t had input into, so identify your most vocal or influential project managers and involve them in the definition of the new practices.
  2. Take a lean approach – Change for change sake is just going to increase the likelihood of resistance so make sure someone on your team is asking the question “Why do we need to make this specific change”?
  3. Leverage the Code – Members of PMI are required to adhere to the Code of Ethics.  The following excerpt from one of the standards of conduct aligns well with the benefits of consistent practice: “We accept accountability for any issues resulting from our errors or omissions and any resulting consequences.”  A lack of consistent practice increase the potential of project issues if a transition in project managers occurs.
  4. Evaluate – whether or not you have formal reporting responsibility over the project managers, try to build compliance with the procedural changes into their evaluation objectives, and incent them to champion the changes through visible recognition.
  5. Shift the workload – for the project managers working on the most challenging or large-scale projects, identify staff (or coop students) that are aspiring to project management roles and attempt to recruit them to assist these project managers as project coordinators.  The project managers will likely appreciate the ability to offload project administration activities to the project coordinators, and you’ll benefit by having the “next generation” of project managers aligned with your new organizational standards. 

If increasing project management consistency feels like herding cats, consider these practices as the change management equivalent of catnip!

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