Tag Archives: Project Management

Strategies for Delivering Unpopular News

The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member, but on the contrary degrades itself to a level with the lowest.” – Henry David Thoreau
Recent experiences of Republican congressional members returning to their home districts during recess to explain President Trump’s proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act are instructive for the design of organizational change management (OCM) strategies.
How should you plan to communicate when the news will be unpopular?
We want to surface resistance, and we want to give voice to those closest to the work being affected. Evidence suggests that despite the additional time and cost, it makes sense to plan for small groups, or one-on-one meetings to deliver messages and get feedback from affected stakeholders.
I’ll never forget a meeting I attended many years ago where senior management assembled all the union machinists in an organization to update them on hazardous material safety. About ten minutes into the meeting one outspoken participant broke the ice with an accusation that leadership was concealing the true hazards of one of the materials that they routinely worked with. Within minutes, it became a shouting match, a mob mentality had taken over, meaningful communication stopped, and the meeting had to be abruptly ended. Eventually, one-on-one meetings were scheduled, not only to share the original information, but to repair the damage that occurred during the mob scene.
Excerpts from a recent New York Times editorial that highlights this issue in detail and references some of the research follows.

Can the G.O.P. Turn Back the Tide of Town Hall Anger?
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “The Conduct of Life”: “Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them.”
Thoreau and Emerson argued that crowds add up to something less than the sum of their parts. The principle behind this is called “deindividuation,” in which an individual’s social constraints are diminished and distorted by being part of a crowd that forms to express a particular point of view. The French psychologist Gustave Le Bon first explained this concept in his magisterial 1895 text “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.” Le Bon found that crowds were inherently “unanimous, emotional and intellectually weak.”
Lots of research confirms this, showing that deindividuation can lower inhibitions against immoral behavior. In one of my favorite studies, researchers set up a bowl of candy for Halloween trick-or-treaters, told them to take just one piece and then left them alone. Some of the children were in anonymous groups, others were by themselves. When kids were part of a group, 60 percent took more than one piece of candy. When they were by themselves but not asked their names, 20 percent cheated. But when they were alone and asked their names, only 10 percent took more than they were allotted.
Of course, it stands to reason that deindividuation could improve individuals instead of making them worse. We can all think of cases in which we have been swept up in a wave of kindness and compassion in a group, even in spite of our personal feelings. Group polarization, in which individuals are pushed emotionally in the general direction of the crowd, can be either positive or negative.

The common error is when leaders treat the whole group like one individual. Remember Le Bon’s theory that a crowd is stronger, angrier and less ideologically flexible than an individual. Getting irate or defensive will always be counterproductive. Similarly, it is mostly futile to try talking over a protest chant.
The opportunity is to “re-individuate” audience members — to treat people as individuals and not as part of a mass. This is done not by acknowledging questions shouted anonymously but by asking audience members to physically separate from the mass and identify themselves if they wish to speak. When people detach from a group, the research suggests they will become more ethical, rational and intelligent.

A link to the entire article is below



Organizational Change Management vs. Leadership

Do you hire dedicated organizational change consultants to help with the development and implementation of organizational change management (OCM) strategy and plans, or do you rely on your internal leadership to develop OCM strategy and plans?  This is a debate that has been going on for many years regarding the deployment of OCM resources in organizations.

My position is that Organizational Change Management is a core leadership competency that anyone who calls him/herself “leader” should be well-versed in.  In fact, I would go as far as to add, that anyone in a leadership role who is not skilled in OCM is, in-fact, not a competent leader.

On the surface, common sense tells me they are the same.  But to make my case, I’ll compare two well-known, highly-regarded models – one for OCM and one for leadership.

First, let’s look at a time-tested change management model, The Kotter 8-Step Model,[i] first published in 1996 and recently updated.

Kotter’s 8-Step Org Change Model (2015)

Step 1 – Create a Sense of Urgency

Craft and use a significant opportunity as a means for exciting people to sign up to change their organization.

Step 2 – Build a Guiding Coalition

Assemble a group with the power and energy to lead and support a collaborative change effort.

Step 3 – Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives

Shape a vision to help steer the change effort and develop strategic initiatives to achieve that vision.

Step 4 – Enlist a Volunteer Army

Raise a large force of people who are ready, willing and urgent to drive change.

Step 5 – Enable Action by Removing Barriers

Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that pose threats to the achievement of the vision.

Step 6 – Generate Short-Term Wins

Consistently produce, track, evaluate and celebrate volumes of small and large accomplishments – and correlate them to results.

Step 7 – Sustain Acceleration

Use increasing credibility to change systems, structures and policies that don’t align with the vision; hire, promote and develop employees who can implement the vision; reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes and volunteers.

Step 8 – Institute Change

Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

Compare Kotter to a Leadership Model

For a leadership model, I’ll use what I consider to be the gold standard; the model put forward in 1987 by James Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in “The Leadership Challenge.”[ii]  To make the comparison, I’ll insert relevant steps from Kotter following each component of their leadership model.  You might quibble with my choices, but you’ll get the idea.

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership (Kouzes & Posner) – With Kotter added

Model the Way – Clarify Values, Set the Example

Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (constituents, peers, colleagues, and customers alike) should be treated and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow. Because the prospect of complex change can overwhelm people and stifle action, they set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives. They unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action; they put up signposts when people are unsure of where to go or how to get there; and they create opportunities for victory.

Kotter Step 5 – Enable Action by Removing Barriers

Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that pose threats to the achievement of the vision.

Kotter Step 6 – Generate Short-Term Wins

Consistently produce, track, evaluate and celebrate volumes of small and large accomplishments – and correlate them to results.

Inspire a Shared Vision – Envision the Future, Enlist Others

Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Through their magnetism and quiet persuasion, leaders enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

Kotter Step 1 – Create a Sense of Urgency

Craft and use a significant opportunity as a means for exciting people to sign up to change their organization.

Kotter Step 3 – Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives

Shape a vision to help steer the change effort and develop strategic initiatives to achieve that vision.

Challenge the Process – Search for Opportunities, Experiment and Take Risks

Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.

Kotter Step 7 – Sustain Acceleration

Use increasing credibility to change systems, structures and policies that don’t align with the vision; hire, promote and develop employees who can implement the vision; reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes and volunteers.

Kotter Step 8 – Institute Change

Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

Enable Others to Act – Foster Collaboration, Strengthen Others

Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. They actively involve others. Leaders understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts; they strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.

Kotter Step 2 – Build a Guiding Coalition

Assemble a group with the power and energy to lead and support a collaborative change effort.

Kotter Step 4 – Enlist a Volunteer Army

Raise a large force of people who are ready, willing and urgent to drive change.

Kotter Step 5 – Enable Action by Removing Barriers

Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that pose threats to the achievement of the vision.

Encourage the Heart – Recognize Contributions, Celebrate the Values and Victories

Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. They make people feel like heroes.

Kotter Step 6 – Generate Short-Term Wins

Consistently produce, track, evaluate and celebrate volumes of small and large accomplishments – and correlate them to results.

In Summary

When you look at these two models side by side, the similarity is obvious.  You might argue that the difference between leadership and OCM is that OCM is about creating a strategy and plan to apply to a specific initiative whereas leadership is a continuous activity – like the difference between a project and a job.  Perhaps, but the skills required to be successful remain virtually identical.  I would push back by pointing out, that very few organizations have the luxury of managing one or two discrete change initiatives.  Most organizations are now perpetually managing many, complex, long-term initiatives.  The notion of “managing changes” is virtually obsolete.  In today’s world you must “lead change.”  Organizational change management is a core leadership competency, that anyone who wants to be a successful leader must have skill in.  It cannot be delegated to a consultant.

[i] Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

[ii] Kouzes, J. M., Posner, B. Z.  (2008). The Leadership Challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Managing Transitions: Real-Life Examples – Part 2

This is another true life personal experience straight from the Org Change trenches.  I’ll bet many readers of this have either had a similar experience or know others who have.   Part one of this story is about an experience in my personal life.  Click here to go back and read Managing Transitions:  Real-Life Examples – Part 1.   It may also be useful to read a previous post: Why do we need Organizational Change Management?

Scan to QR flat

Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Transition

Virtually every large organization is using technology to manage their HR processes.  The recruiting function in most large organizations utilizes an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to post job openings, manage applications, and manage the interview/selection process.  This story has been edited to reflect only the issues surrounding one set of functionality; campus recruiting.  Obviously there was much more involved in this project.

A recent client did a significant amount of college recruiting.  The campus recruiters would collect resumes at college career fairs.  They would then go back to their office and manually create a candidate record in their home-brew ATS, then scan and attach the pdf of the resume to the new candidate record.  This was a labor-intensive process that was prone to errors.   Many recruiters opted to not use the ATS at all, preferring to keep a spreadsheet and paper records.   Leadership was frustrated because essential business metrics were difficult or impossible to gather.  Needless to say, this process was painful for everyone involved.  It had to change.  Even so, the recruiters were not enthusiastic about changing the way they did things and were reluctant to provide support for the project.

When the project team talked to the college recruiters about their requirements for a new system, they said, “We need the ability to scan resumes and get them into the ATS faster.”  This is typical of what Business Analysts (BA) hear on IT projects; I want the new system to do what I do now – just better.  A good BA can translate that into real requirements, and that is what was done on this project.  Most ATS’ these days don’t have any capability to manage paper documents at all; they rely on the applicant to submit a resume electronically, so finding an ATS that could “scan faster” was not going to happen.  However, many state-of-the-art ATS’ have other capabilities designed to address this specific need.

A group was selected to pilot the new system, based on their expressed willingness to be “guinea pigs” and the support of their leadership.  When the recruiters got there first overview of the new system they were flabbergasted, “Are you kidding me?  There is no way interface to the scanner?  I hate this!  It will never work for us.”  Fortunately the team had done its homework and anticipated this reaction, and had planned to walk them through the solution.

For each new campus recruiting event, the recruiter creates an event in the ATS.  This in turn, creates an on-line” Event Portal” linked to the ATS, with a form to capture candidate information.  It also generates a unique QR code for the event.  The recruiter then embeds the QR code in all the collateral that they create for the campus event.   At the event, the candidate scans the QR code with their smart phone and is then directed to the Event Portal.  Here they fill out a simple form that creates their record in the ATS, emails the recruiter their contact info, and emails them a link to upload their resume.

Once the recruiter pilot group understood how this system worked, how easy it was, and how much effort it saved them, they became raging advocates – they would’ve harmed us if we tried to switch them back to the old system.  Together we developed very effective, efficient training for the larger deployment.  Best of all, positive buzz about the new system spread fast, ahead of our formal communication plan, and soon campus recruiters across the enterprise were clamoring for the new system.

This story is typical of corporate IT application deployment projects.  The technical aspects of the deployment are relatively straightforward, but the impact on the end-user is transformational – it fundamentally changes the way they do their jobs. (See: Types of Org Change)

Four Phases of Change

It starts with denial; “We don’t need to change.  We know this process is bad but we know how to do it.”  The initial emotional /gut reaction is resistance; “This doesn’t work the way our old system did, it will never work.”  In a scenario like this, the key to achieving the desired business impact is by getting the adoption rate to 100%.  If the impacted population doesn’t experience success and feel the benefit of the new system quickly, their frustration can drive them back to their manual processes or to work-arounds.

A good Org Change consultant does their homework; anticipates the resistance, understands the source of it, and has an executable plan to address it.  This is where we earn our pay!  Identify a pilot group of early adopters and lead them by the hand into the Exploration phase.  Their real-life experience is then used to develop and/or refine the training materials that will be used to roll-out the system to the balance of the organization.  Their success stories become the core of your communications.

It is worth noting, that it is critical that someone knowledgable of orgnaizational behavior and change management is involved early in a project to identify transformational changes.  Too frequently I see teams assume that the technical deployment is simple so the impact on the end-user must be minimal.

The Key to Accountability: “We should…” vs. “I will…”

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”   – Leo Tolstoy

I have frequently been asked, “How can our organization increase accountability?” And I typically respond with something like, “Make an action plan and then publicize it.” It’s well-understood that making a public commitment is a very powerful motivator.

There’s strong empirical evidence to show that a choice made actively – one that’s spoken out loud or written down or otherwise made explicit – is considerably more likely to direct someone’s future conduct than the same choice left unspoken. [1]

This is very simple, and easy to do. But for some reason, organizations struggle with getting to that public commitment.

I think I’ve stumbled upon the missing link.

To make a long story short: I was recently part of a series of division-level planning meetings. There were many ideas raised, dutifully recorded on flip charts, and there were good discussions and acclaims of, “Yes, we should do that.”

Toward the final hour of the last meeting, the division leader ended the discussion and challenged his team – It’s time to stop the “we should…” and start the “I will…”

The impact of this simple statement was astonishing. I’ve been reflecting on it since then, trying to put my finger on what had happened. Here’s what I came up with:

We should - I will table

  1. Consensus is the enemy of accountability – it can prevent it. It “feels good” and teams have a sense of accomplishment after reaching a consensus. But a leader who lets a discussion end at “we should…” is enabling the inaction problem.
  2. “We should…” allows room for pie-in-the-sky ideas. There is a time and place for that. But “I will…” immediately causes you to focus on what is actually achievable within your control; within your time and resource constraints. We should solve world hunger – who disagrees with that? What will you do to solve world hunger?
  3. Similarly, “we should…” allows thinking in long time-frames, while “I will…” results in near-term focus.
  4. “We should…” allows undefined solutions – i.e., “we should automate that process.” “I will…” thinking makes you think of the actual process of developing a solution. I.e., I will sponsor a meeting to define the goal and begin documenting the current state.
  5. “We should; reduce scrap, improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” All of these examples are good goals, but they are not actionable. Instead, try “I will; propose two ways to reduce scrap, Improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” These are tangible actions that an individual can plan to execute.


Too frequently, teams mistakenly think that their goal is simply to agree on something they “should” do; a vision, a goal, or a direction. If you are coaching a business leader, remind them; As soon as you agree on “we should…” – follow it up with “I will…”

[1] Cialdini, Robert B. “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion.” Harvard Business Review, October 2001: 72-79.

Types of Change Initiatives – Early Conversations to have with Stakeholders

A common complaint that I hear from org change professionals is, “we aren’t brought in early enough on a project.”   However, what I see in practice is that these folks are at the table early enough, the real problem is failure to engage sponsors in the right conversations early enough.  Being consistently invited to the very first kick-off meeting will not change anything.  Focusing sponsors on the issues that will frame the org change effort will!

The goal for any org change leader is to get the impacted population through the transition/neutral zone as quickly and painlessly as possible, to get to the desired productivity improvement.  In other words, minimize the depth and duration of the “performance dip” and sustain the productivity gains.  To clarify these points, please follow this link to read “Why Do We Need Change Management?”

I have seen many varieties of Change Readiness surveys, and Organizational Impact Assessments.  I hate to say it, but I believe that virtually every one I am familiar with is of little or no value.  That’s another blog topic.  

It is essential that early in a project, the sponsor(s) and project leadership understand the type of change being presented by their initiative. 

Three factors to consider

Not all changes are created equal.  I think we all understand that.  Some are the, “just get over it” type, and some need a serious adoption strategy.  I plan on exploring this in depth in the next few months.  There are three big considerations that I see right now:

1.  What is changing?  Culture, Process/Technology, or Strategy/Org Structure

2.  The scope of the change.  Is it Developmental, Transitional or Transformational?

3.  Availability of alternatives to the change.   Is the change optional or is there a workaround?

1.      What is Changing?

What you need to change will have an enormous impact on your change strategy.  Generally, changes to Process and/or Technology are relatively straightforward.  Changes to Strategy and/or Organization Structure (including favorites like downsizing!) are tougher.  Changes to culture…  Well, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” as the saying goes.   I plan on expanding on this section later.  This is a book by itself.

2.      Scope of the Change

The scope of change can be loosely categorized into three buckets; Developmental, Transitional, and Transformational.


After Developmental changes, the impacted population will be doing the same things, only better.  In other words, there will be very little behavior change required.  For example, upgrading Internet Explorer from a well-known version to a new release, or physically moving your workspace from one cubicle to a similar one on a different floor.  Most people will make these types of transition with little or no help.   There is little or no value in dedicating Org Change resources to these kinds of changes.  There is very little “behavior change” necessary and there is no alternative available to go back to.  Everyone will eventually reach the “committed” phase.


After Transitional changes, the impacted population will shift from current state to a known, defined alternate state.  For example, upgrading an Applicant Tracking System for your HR Recruiters.  Many will not make it through transitional changes smoothly without help, and there is risk of a long drop-off in productivity without timely communications, training and support.  

There is significant risk with transitional changes that must be noted.  Frequently, what seems to be a straightforward transitional change can turn out to be a transformational change, and not adequately addressed and resourced.  For that reason alone, applying organizational change resources early will add value.  Pilots or proof-of-concept studies with the impacted population should be considered and encouraged.  They will surface the true nature of your change initiative, as well as help gain buy-in, help with training development, etc.


Transformational change begins with a known current state, but an unknown, or poorly defined end state.   Examples would be integration of an acquired business, or a major business unit reorganization.  During transformational change, there is a high risk of failure to achieve the intended outcomes without a serious organizational change management effort including a robust organizational change strategy, communications, and training and support.  The OC strategy must include visible, committed leadership able to articulate a compelling “heart & head” vision (i.e., we can’t tell you exactly what the final state is, but we can paint a picture for you of what we are trying to achieve).

3.     Availability of Alternatives to the Change

The second thing to zero in on is whether or not there will be any alternatives to the new process in the future state.   In other words, if the impacted population can go back to the old way when they encounter obstacles, they probably will

No Alternatives

Frequently a change will allow for no alternatives, such as a business network administrator upgrading your MS-Office applications.  With no training or communications at all, most users will eventually become comfortable and proficient with the new version.  There may be resistance and frustration initially, but it will eventually subside without any intervention – the adoption rate will be 100%.  Timely communications and training could decrease the depth of, and shorten the performance dip, but the business would not be in jeopardy if it didn’t happen.

 When given the option, it is a good idea to apply the burn-the-boats strategy, a.k.a. the “Cortez” method.  While this may seem harsh at first glance, it is not.  There is compelling evidence that when people do not have an option, they will rationalize the only remaining option and find happiness with it.  If they retain the option to return to the old way they never make the rationalization and remain mired in-transition and unhappy.  See the work of Dan Gilbert on “Synthetic Happiness” on TED.

 In July 1519, his men took over Veracruz:  In order to eliminate any ideas of retreat, Cortés scuttled his ships. [Wikipedia]

Alternative Options Remain Available

Sometimes you must leave a legacy process/system in place while work-in-process runs off, or a manual paper-based process always remains as an alternative to a new automated system.  This is the challenge that most people think of when they think about the purpose of org change management – increasing the adoption rate of a new process.  Adoption rate is a common org change metric.

 Unless there is some overwhelming motivation for adoption when alternatives will remain available, you probably need to apply a robust org change strategy.  E.g., if users are permitted to continue to use legacy system there is high probability that they will return to it when they encounter “resistance” with the new system. 

 When alternatives will be available, your org change strategy must include pilots or proof-of-concept studies with the impacted population to drive “exploration” to identify and mitigate factors that will drive users back to the legacy process.  Mitigation might include providing feedback to the system developers for system modification, or to develop training and communications for deployment.  Measurement and incentive systems are necessary as well.

 More on all of this soon.

Why do we need Organizational Change Management?

“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start… ”
– Oscar Hammerstein II

What is change management?
Prosci defines Change Management as “… a structured process and set of tools for leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome.”
© Copyright Prosci 2010

I would add that it is an art form more than a science, and that it is leadership more than management.  But the part of the definition about the “…leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome” is dead-on.  There must be some desired outcome we want to achieve, and we need people to do things differently in order to achieve it.

The Bridges “Transitions” Model
The goal for any Org Change leader is to get the impacted population through the transition from the current state to the desired future state as quickly and painlessly as possible.  This was first described in 1947 by Kurt Lewin as the “Unfreeze – Change – Freeze” process, and more recently described by William Bridges as the “Letting Go – Neutral Zone – New Beginning” process (shown in Fig 1 below).

                                      Figure 1 – William Bridges “Transitions” model
Adapted from “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change”  by William Bridges (3rd Ed. p5)

The Bridges model makes an important improvement over the Lewin model.  It shows how some people may very quickly “let go” of the old way move quickly through the Neutral Zone and get to the New Beginning (green arrow), while others may never let go (red arrow).  Most people fall in-between, they do let go but spend a long time struggling in the Neutral Zone (blue arrow).  These “blue arrow” folks are where change leaders earn their pay.   Let’s take a deeper look at this…

The “Denial-Resistance-Exploration-Commitment” Model
The model shown in Figure 2 below is a popular four-step change model demonstrated famously by the characters in “Who Moved My Cheese?”   This model easily relates back to the Bridges model.  The Denial phase requires acknowledging that change is necessary and that it is happening in order to Let Go.  Then the Resistance-Exploration phases while in the Neutral Zone, and finally the breakthrough to the New Beginning and a Commitment to the new desired future state.

Figure 2 – Four Phases of Change

The important concept here is that an individual in the Neutral Zone may go through several iterations of resistance – exploration – resistance – exploration before breaking out.  I attempted to indicate this by the squiggles in the blue arrow in Figure 1.  There is also the possibility that they may “give-up” and return to “the old way” if that option exists.

So we understand what people go through when we ask them to change.  How then does this manifest itself in the workplace in on-the-job performance?   Fortunately this is well-understood as well.

The “Performance Dip”
When significant change is introduced into a workplace, we expect those impacted by the change to experience the Kubler-Ross Change Cycle (Shock-Denial-Anger-Despair-Understanding-Acceptance-Moving on).  This manifests itself as a drop-off in business performance, as shown in Figure 3.  Eventually the business performance returns.   It is simple to map this back to the Denial-Resistance-Exploration-Commitment model as well.  When we introduce changes intending to improve business processes, we hope to see that business performance is eventually improved at the end of that cycle.  But if you are reading this, you probably know all too well that there is no guarantee of that.  Something like 65% of change initiatives fail to achieve their intended outcomes.

What does an Org Change Leader Do?
In a nutshell, there are three things we try to do:

  1. Decrease the depth of the performance dip
  2. Shorten the duration of the performance dip
  3. Sustain the gains in performance after the initiative is complete

We help avoid the cost of “Re-”
…As in re-design, re-deploy, re-work, re-launch, resign.

When a change initiative encounters significant resistance, and the impacted population has the option/power to pursue alternatives to the change, the stage is set for a failed initiative.  This is how projects wind-up being re-designed, and re-launched, with the subsequent cost overruns, opportunity costs, reputation and morale damage, and collateral damage to other projects.  There is big money involved in all of these.

This is why we need org change management.  This is where an org change leader earns their pay.  I will be addressing specific recommendations and some case studies in future postings very soon.

A Different Approach to Project Charters

What is a Project Charter?
A project charter is a document that is used to clarify the purpose and plan for a project. There are limitless variations of project charter templates available. All project charters include a statement of the problem to be solved, the goal of the project, the business case and the scope of the project (and may include a high-level process map). Charters may also include the customer(s), a high-level project plan and schedule, key stakeholders, estimated financial benefits, team members and their roles, assumptions and constraints.

Why Should My Team Create a Project Charter?

Well, for two really good reasons…
1. If done well, the content of the completed charter document is a valuable tool for communicating about the project to anyone new to the team, or anyone who suddenly finds themselves more than superficially interested in your project. Very often, senior leaders fall into this category

2. The real value of a project charter (IMHO) is found in the process of creating the document. If done conscientiously, the chartering process will drive the team to consult closely with the project champion and/or customers to ensure common understanding of the why, what, how, when and who of the project.

If you’re anything like the hundreds of people I’ve taught or coached through six sigma projects, you look at creating the project charter as a fill-in-the-blanks exercise that you can do by yourself in an hour so that you can quickly move on to the “real” work. Taking that approach my friend, would be a critical mistake.

Try thinking of your project charter this way.

Someone has the original idea for a project. I.e., they have gathered much information and synthesized many factors. They have an idea that makes perfect sense to them – so much sense that they champion the creation of a team, and support the allocation of resources to it. Somehow this project lands in your lap. It makes sense to you, at least the way you understand it. Now, what do you suppose the probability is that your understanding of the project and the originators idea of the project are the same? Based on my experience with many dozens of projects, I’d say that probability is very small.  That’s why we go throught the chartering process!

Many organizations will go through the trouble of creating a PowerPoint template that must be filled in – as if the purpose of the charter is to pitch! I recommend using a simple text document. It will be much easier to edit, email, paste into other formats, etc. should you need to.

I suggest using plain English headings/section titles that read in a logical fashion. Remember, you already know what this project is about. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is reading this for the first time because they’ve got to come up-to-speed on your project in a hurry.

Suggested Headings:

Here’s what our project is about…
Here’s why it’s important to do…
Here’s what we want to achieve (The Vision)
Here’s what we expect of our team member
How will we accomplish this? (Objectives)
Who are the Customers for this project and what are their requirements?
Critical success factors
How will we measure success?
What is the current plan?

Try this approach to a Project Charter and see if you don’t find it easier to create as well as more useful for your project team.