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Author: Rory McNamara

Rory McNamara works as Head of Project Services for Ascertus. He has worked in project management for over a decade and gained his experience implementing technology solutions to Local Authorities, NHS Trusts, European public organizations and Top 100 Law and Accountancy Firms.

Project WFH – Is It Time To Re-scope For Phase 2?

Around about March 2020, the world of work changed for most of us. The swarms of bleary-eyed commuters with their heads bowed in servitude to their phones, books and newspapers, fed by their choice of music or podcast, disappeared off the face of the earth.

All that was left in the wake was a handful of critical works who, bound by their front-line worker status, trudged wearily to their local train stations and bus stops to find the usual fight-to-the-death for a seat battle no longer existed; those accustomed to a perpetual stop and start of the morning drive were now enjoying a traffic-free cruise to work akin to cruising down Route 66 with nothing but the open road in front of them. It didn’t last. As I write this in February 2023, those swarms are recovering and the stop & start car journeys are back, albeit slightly diluted. The commuter beast is no longer in-slumber. Whilst it will likely never be what it was, for many the stresses of commuting have returned.

However, for most of us we are now working from home far more than we ever did. For some of us it’s a full time and permanent change. For others it is a “hybrid” combination of some days at home and some days in the office. No matter what your working pattern is, a lot more has changed since March 2020 other than where we park our backsides each day.

Working from home undoubtedly brings some obvious benefits. Reduced or completely eradicated commuting time and expense, more flexibility for family commitments, impromptu visits to the gym or walks along the river; the benefits are there for us all as individuals to qualify. Yet as Newton taught us, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; specifically in this case, with benefit comes disbenefit. Things have changed and we haven’t really considered just how negatively the new world of remote working is impacting our productivity and our health. How so? Allow me to explain!

“I’m going to talk to you and I’m going to do it now!”
Take yourself back to the days of being in an office. You’re in a meeting with a client and they’re telling you that your current project is going badly. They’re unhappy, things haven’t gone to plan and you’re under pressure to get things back on track quickly. This is your moment; this is your time to calmly and clearly discuss your remediation plan. Just as you’re midway through responding, a colleague bursts into the office and whispers in your ear “Hi Rory” and then leaves the room. “Okay… that’s a bit strange” you think to yourself but you try to ignore it and carry on. Six seconds later, they’re back in the room whispering again “Do you know what the plan is for Project X next Thursday?”. Once again they turn and leave the room. Eight seconds later, they’re back. Like a mosquito that just won’t quit, they’re buzzing in your ear; “I only ask because I need Mohammed to work on my project on Thursday, too”.

However, this time someone else has walked in with them and whispering in your other ear telling you about a critical issue on another project that needs your immediate attention. This is now getting tricky. You’re trying to speak to your client but your colleagues keep barging into your meeting and talking at you. Now the first person who interrupted you is getting frustrated because you haven’t responded so they’re back again but this time they stand directly in your line of sight and put both hands up, tilt their heads and apply a facial expression that implies “So? Your answer, please”. All of this is going on at the same time as you trying to focus your attention on your customer in the meeting.

This scenario is laughable and would simply never have happened. Never. Yet, it does now and it happens every single day of our working lives. Our increased reliance on software such as Microsoft Teams to communicate has hijacked and destroyed our ability to focus; it has removed all courtesy from our interactions with one another. We have become selfish, inconsiderate and entirely impatient. Teams even tells our colleagues when we’re on a call or in a meeting but somehow it has become acceptable to be one of those people barging in and interrupting the meeting. Allow me to be bold; this has to stop. We must all regain our consideration and our ability to quantify the criticality of our question. Are lives at risk? Is this so urgent that it requires interrupting a meeting? Or, in reality, can you pop someone an email instead?

 

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Lunch is for wimps

Ill-fitting suit, red braces, slick-back hair and a love/hate relationship with that Wall Street character. He was ruthless, he spoke proudly of greed being good and despite his obvious character flaws, I have always had a shameful appreciation for that character. However, my name is not Gordon and I actually quite enjoy a lunch break! So, is lunch really for wimps or should we make time for a break?

I know I am not alone. I know my diary is not the only diary that has back-to-back meetings for seven, eight or nine hours a day. But why? My mind drifts back to a fabled time when I felt like the busiest person on earth but I still had time to eat, drink and think. Alas, not anymore. There have been countless days when I have not managed to eat until 4pm, but again, I know I’m not the only one. So, why? To me, it is quite obvious – those five minute, impromptu conversations with colleagues in the office have now become 30 minute scheduled meetings that often take a week to actually materialize and when they do, I’m almost always late. For someone who has a genuine issue with tardiness, this is hard to admit. We have become robotic in our methods of communicating and now even the shortest of discussions appear to warrant a meeting, yet in the old days, they did not and that is because we often leant back in our chair, asked a workmate if they have five minutes, et voila! Conversation organized and completed. I miss those days.

 

Fine, things have changed but what has changed so drastically that so many of us spend the majority, or all of (worse still, more than all of!) our working days in online meetings? Meetings are now scheduled between 12pm-2pm and frequently done so because “that’s the only time people are available”. Yet, we should not be available because we should be resting, eating, exercising or doing anything but working. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to sacrifice a lunch break but I just don’t want to do it (not do I expect my team) to do it on an almost daily basis.

Final Thoughts
If you have reached this point, you may well be thinking that I am anti-WFH. Well, I’m not. For the past 20 years of my career, I have enjoyed a productive combination of working in the office and from home… the only difference is that we did it and did not give it a name. It just worked. It can still work. However, we need to become more considerate of one another. When someone is in a meeting, they are in a meeting so do the courteous thing and leave them in peace. Think back to the old days of three years ago – it would take something incredibly critical to interrupt someone in a meeting. You didn’t do it then, so do not do it now; it is selfish and inconsiderate.

Perhaps we can plan ahead better – as Project Management professionals, we should be the ones setting the standard for pre-empting when we need to speak to people. Of course, even the most committed planners will still need to speak to someone at short notice but that has always been the case and  we can all live with that. We should ask ourselves whether we really need all seven of those people in our meeting. Similarly, we should not be afraid to question the meeting organizer whether we really need to attend. Speaking frankly, I am not professing to have all of the answers but I want us all to start being more considerate.

 

Oh, and for the record, I am guilty of committing all of the sins I have outlined in this article. In fact, I am just as selfish as the next person when I want my answers! We are never going to go back to the old days and that’s just something I have to accept. This has been thrust upon us with no warning and represents a genuine seismic shift in how we work. Take a moment and consider it; we really have evolved our ways of working at an unprecedented pace so it’s to be expected that many of us are struggling to make it work. So, I end as I started, I believe it is time to re-scope phase 2 of Project WFH. Let’s be creative and considerate because we really are all in this together.

Best of PMTimes: Change Management in Projects – The Overlooked Methodology

The Scenario

The decision to implement a new technology solution is a significant one and, in many cases, a project that typically an organization is unlikely to undertake often. It is a project that requires a significant investment of money, time, and effort and so, return on investment (ROI) represents an important set of metrics that an organization should keep at the forefront of their minds. In almost all cases, the primary ROI metric is in fact a question – “How many people are now using the new software?”. This basic question should never be overlooked and I recommend asking it at the earliest stage of the project and phrasing that question differently- “How do we ensure everyone embraces our new software?”.

This subtle nuance is so frequently missed or undervalued, which is understandable as so much focus is applied to the traditional method of running technology projects; the priority is delivery and subsequently, user adoption does not get the attention it requires. Like a motor car, you can build the finest, most performant engine but if you only include one seat, only a select few people will choose to drive it.

 

The Culture

First and foremost, it is important to understand that having a perfectly designed and configured technology solution will not alone deliver a truly successful project. In the modern professional world, each of us has a significant level of autonomy in how we work and when using technology; we do not share email addresses or mobile phones and we typically undertake our day-to-day jobs differently from the next person. These examples are obvious when we think about them, so we should look at change through a similar lens; change affects people at an individual level.

The human mind is a complex thing; 1.4kgs of intelligence, hope, love, fear, and everything in between. We celebrate and promote our individuality in life, so we must consider everyone’s uniqueness when delivering a project. When we think back to previous changes we have experienced in our professional lives, almost always the same combination of positive and negative questions and remarks are made. Such examples include:

  • “Great! It’s about time we improved that.”
  • “Not for me. The current solution works just fine.”
  • “The last project was a nightmare.”
  • “Wow! This might actually make my life a lot easier.”

It is natural to respond negatively to change. Even as a Project Manager, in the past I have instinctively reacted with pessimism when I have felt a change was forced upon me! It is this realization that has driven me to adjust and develop project delivery methods to encourage people to embrace change.

 

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Delivering Change

We need to view delivering successful change as both a lineal and perpetual process. Embracing change starts at the onset of a project and continues throughout the weeks and months ahead until we reach ‘go-live’ and beyond. The sections below include suggested methods for embracing change and delivering a successful project.

1. Ignite Interest – 0-1 month of the project

It is important to start communicating with the user community as soon as possible. This is a vital step- addressing the common complaints raised by users that they were unaware of and/or not consulted about the new software.

Below are some ways to get you started on communicating and igniting interest:

  • Announce during any regular “Town Hall” style company-wide meetings
  • Send an email to announce and sell the benefits
  • If appropriate, force-out screensaver/ desktop wallpaper announcements
  • Print free-standing banners and place in communal areas of the office
  • If screens exist in communal areas, display messages of the new project
  • Utilize the Intranet

The key to these activities is to build interest, not provide copious amounts of information. View this as a method of igniting some excitement so focus on the key selling points of the product.

 

2. Develop Interest – 1-3 months of the project

It is now time to build upon the initial interest that has been generated in the project. We should now be at a point that everyone in the organization is aware of the incoming software; this initial interest needs to be developed. We must remain mindful that one of the most common complaints following a project’s implementation, is that the end-users have not been consulted or felt involved. If someone feels negatively towards an incoming change, it is often because they feel that change has been forced upon them. Here are some recommended activities you can undertake at this stage of the process:

  • Run demonstration Workshops of the software
  • Establish user groups from each business area and run “interview” sessions to develop an understanding of how they work and how the software will need to be optimized for them
  • Set up a small number of workstations for users to “play” with the software
  • Provide regular project updates – most people don’t want huge amounts of detail; they just want to feel included and updated so share timelines and high-level updates

 

3. Empower Users – 3-4 months of the project

Training users on the new software is not a new concept but it is vital. The training delivery method is of particular importance and tailoring the training to specific departments is something that is highly recommended. When planning the training, ask questions such as “How will this department use the software?” With the knowledge built from the steps in stage 1, you will already have this knowledge so let’s use it to develop tailored training sessions. Training can of course be delivered in many forms:

  • Face to face, classroom sessions
  • Training videos/ eLearning
  • Quick Reference Guides (one-page graphical guides)
  • Remote, web-based training sessions

4. Support Users – Go live

To reach this point of the project, a significant level of investment and effort will have been expressed by all parties involved. Users have been trained, informed, and updated, but now they need to use the software. The risk here is that if there is one small gap in a user’s knowledge, then that can spark negativity that spreads throughout their user experience and transfer to their colleagues rapidly. To counter this, I always strongly recommend floorwalking. As outlined in this document, floorwalking ensures users are supported immediately during the first few days of using the software.

 

5. Into the Future

Change- specifically managing and embracing change, is a perpetual concept. Think of it as sliding down a curly-wurly slide and landing on a roundabout! Each twist in the slide represents the steps required for effective change during the project, followed by the roundabout which is the ongoing process of ensuring the change continues to be embraced and enjoyed. Whilst a new piece of software might not be as enjoyable (or nausea-inducing) as a roundabout, it is important to continue to communicate with your users after they have started using the software. Be sure to give that roundabout a “nudge” every now and then to keep it spinning. These nudges are often best delivered as metrics. The good thing about metrics is that they are typically easy to generate and simple to communicate. Consider options such as:

  • Usage stats – share how many people are using the software and when
  • Tangible benefits – where possible, calculate the direct or indirect cost benefits that have been realized vs the cost of the solution
  • Speak to your user community – remember, most software solutions are to benefit the users so be open to their feedback and share it

Summary

I honestly believe that there is no perfect solution to implementing a successful change. The wonders of humankind and technology mean there are just too many variables to have a concise set of rules to follow, in order to achieve a successful change. The points I have made in this document are simply my thoughts and broad suggestions, not a roadmap for success. If I can leave you with one concise suggestion, it is to always put yourself in the shoes of the end-user; base your approach on one that you would be comfortable being a part of.

Change Management in Projects – The Overlooked Methodology

The Scenario

The decision to implement a new technology solution is a significant one and, in many cases, a project that typically an organization is unlikely to undertake often. It is a project that requires a significant investment of money, time, and effort and so, return on investment (ROI) represents an important set of metrics that an organization should keep at the forefront of their minds. In almost all cases, the primary ROI metric is in fact a question – “How many people are now using the new software?”. This basic question should never be overlooked and I recommend asking it at the earliest stage of the project and phrasing that question differently- “How do we ensure everyone embraces our new software?”. This subtle nuance is so frequently missed or undervalued, which is understandable as so much focus is applied to the traditional method of running technology projects; the priority is delivery and subsequently, user adoption does not get the attention it requires. Like a motor car, you can build the finest, most performant engine but if you only include one seat, only a select few people will choose to drive it.

The Culture

First and foremost, it is important to understand that having a perfectly designed and configured technology solution will not alone deliver a truly successful project. In the modern professional world, each of us has a significant level of autonomy in how we work and when using technology; we do not share email addresses or mobile phones and we typically undertake our day-to-day jobs differently from the next person. These examples are obvious when we think about them, so we should look at change through a similar lens; change affects people at an individual level.

The human mind is a complex thing; 1.4kgs of intelligence, hope, love, fear, and everything in between. We celebrate and promote our individuality in life, so we must consider everyone’s uniqueness when delivering a project. When we think back to previous changes we have experienced in our professional lives, almost always the same combination of positive and negative questions and remarks are made. Such examples include:

  • “Great! It’s about time we improved that.”
  • “Not for me. The current solution works just fine.”
  • “The last project was a nightmare.”
  • “Wow! This might actually make my life a lot easier.”

It is natural to respond negatively to change. Even as a Project Manager, in the past I have instinctively reacted with pessimism when I have felt a change was forced upon me! It is this realization that has driven me to adjust and develop project delivery methods to encourage people to embrace change.

Advertisement
[widget id=”custom_html-68″]

Delivering Change

We need to view delivering successful change as both a lineal and perpetual process. Embracing change starts at the onset of a project and continues throughout the weeks and months ahead until we reach ‘go-live’ and beyond. The sections below include suggested methods for embracing change and delivering a successful project.

1. Ignite Interest – 0-1 month of the project

It is important to start communicating with the user community as soon as possible. This is a vital step- addressing the common complaints raised by users that they were unaware of and/or not consulted about the new software.

Below are some ways to get you started on communicating and igniting interest:

  • Announce during any regular “Town Hall” style company-wide meetings
  • Send an email to announce and sell the benefits
  • If appropriate, force-out screensaver/ desktop wallpaper announcements
  • Print free-standing banners and place in communal areas of the office
  • If screens exist in communal areas, display messages of the new project
  • Utilize the Intranet

The key to these activities is to build interest, not provide copious amounts of information. View this as a method of igniting some excitement so focus on the key selling points of the product.

2. Develop Interest – 1-3 months of the project

It is now time to build upon the initial interest that has been generated in the project. We should now be at a point that everyone in the organization is aware of the incoming software; this initial interest needs to be developed. We must remain mindful that one of the most common complaints following a project’s implementation, is that the end-users have not been consulted or felt involved. If someone feels negatively towards an incoming change, it is often because they feel that change has been forced upon them. Here are some recommended activities you can undertake at this stage of the process:

  • Run demonstration Workshops of the software
  • Establish user groups from each business area and run “interview” sessions to develop an understanding of how they work and how the software will need to be optimized for them
  • Set up a small number of workstations for users to “play” with the software
  • Provide regular project updates – most people don’t want huge amounts of detail; they just want to feel included and updated so share timelines and high-level updates

3. Empower Users – 3-4 months of the project

Training users on the new software is not a new concept but it is vital. The training delivery method is of particular importance and tailoring the training to specific departments is something that is highly recommended. When planning the training, ask questions such as “How will this department use the software?” With the knowledge built from the steps in stage 1, you will already have this knowledge so let’s use it to develop tailored training sessions. Training can of course be delivered in many forms:

  • Face to face, classroom sessions
  • Training videos/ eLearning
  • Quick Reference Guides (one-page graphical guides)
  • Remote, web-based training sessions

4. Support Users – Go live

To reach this point of the project, a significant level of investment and effort will have been expressed by all parties involved. Users have been trained, informed, and updated, but now they need to use the software. The risk here is that if there is one small gap in a user’s knowledge, then that can spark negativity that spreads throughout their user experience and transfer to their colleagues rapidly. To counter this, I always strongly recommend floorwalking. As outlined in this document, floorwalking ensures users are supported immediately during the first few days of using the software.

5. Into the Future

Change- specifically managing and embracing change, is a perpetual concept. Think of it as sliding down a curly-wurly slide and landing on a roundabout! Each twist in the slide represents the steps required for effective change during the project, followed by the roundabout which is the ongoing process of ensuring the change continues to be embraced and enjoyed. Whilst a new piece of software might not be as enjoyable (or nausea-inducing) as a roundabout, it is important to continue to communicate with your users after they have started using the software. Be sure to give that roundabout a “nudge” every now and then to keep it spinning. These nudges are often best delivered as metrics. The good thing about metrics is that they are typically easy to generate and simple to communicate. Consider options such as:

  • Usage stats – share how many people are using the software and when
  • Tangible benefits – where possible, calculate the direct or indirect cost benefits that have been realized vs the cost of the solution
  • Speak to your user community – remember, most software solutions are to benefit the users so be open to their feedback and share it

Summary

I honestly believe that there is no perfect solution to implementing a successful change. The wonders of humankind and technology mean there are just too many variables to have a concise set of rules to follow, in order to achieve a successful change. The points I have made in this document are simply my thoughts and broad suggestions, not a roadmap for success. If I can leave you with one concise suggestion, it is to always put yourself in the shoes of the end-user; base your approach on one that you would be comfortable being a part of.