Language Creates Meaning

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The challenge is helping the organization focus on the best initiative at the right time. This is not about running the projects themselves, but as an organization knowing which projects that are priority.

The ability to be the first to market, attract new customers, add new functions and features, and resolve significant issues, is the core element of being an ICT leader, whether you deliver services to millions of customers, several organizations, or multitudes of consumers. That’s why the ICT leaders of tomorrow will be those that focus, plan, and complete the most important initiatives today.

( This article by Ian Elgey was published in ISE Magazine – ICT Education and Solutions, December 2016.)

A command style structure, such an empowered project control office, will in many organizations stifle cooperation, innovation, and energy. This could be due to previous poor experience with a failed PMO, organizational change fatigue, or the culture within the organization.

Establishing a tactical project view group or single view of change working group is a journey worth taking.

Here are some important things to consider.
1. Consistent messaging with a single view will alleviate frustration and provide better results for the organization. This helps you persuade others to work on your initiative.
2. It’s critical to share progress of the project as you proceed.
3. Schedule the release of results for maximum impact.
4. Reduce duplication of work.
5. Be persistent. Share your consistent message by being proactive and having conversations with different working teams. Do this frequently and often.

Find Focus

You cannot rely on process or procedure to push participation. Progress is dependent on your reaching out, having targeted conversations, and integrating with your target working groups’ routines and schedules.

To be successful, your message needs to repeat:
What: Set up a view across the organization or department about all substantial initiatives that impact the business. Decide the order in which they should be tackled. This creates a ranked order of projects in flight; a backlog of those that are on the back burner; and a list of completed achievements. Prioritization should be initially linked to your organization, product, or department strategy.

Why: Make sure the business works on the most important initiatives first (Think Scaling Agile Framework.*) Knowing what initiatives provide the biggest impact to customers or staff helps reveal dependencies, and provide a good operational order to what you initiate to complete first.

How: Be transparent with prioritization scoring, frequency of reviews, who’s in the working group, and how to interact with the group. Physically show the 2 templates needed to advise of an initiative and how to advise of progress. (A detailed description of these 2 templates follows.)

As an ICT provider and leader, your modus operandi are all about meeting compliance, customer challenges, and dealing with relentless change. However, it’s important to realize this may not be the case for others you want to align with you. So choose the language that incentivize others to voluntarily participate in making your priorities their priorities.

If your organization has attempted to force change in the past by using a register of projects or via a controlling project management team office, you must avoid using dominant, controlling language. It can automatically trigger resistance and reduce cooperation. Consider alternative labels for processes that were previously perceived as negative experiences. For example, instead of using the term “project register” consider using language such as “a single view of change”. Instead of using the acronym “PMO”, use the alternative wording of “tactical initiative working group”.

The discipline of managing projects is often key to making progress, especially in the ICT industry. However, for those not exposed to projects on a regular basis, the terminology around project management can be daunting. How can you be successful in managing enterprise level projects in those situations where you are working with others who are not used to the rigor of them? By phrasing projects as initiatives with start and end dates, confirming the revenue and cost savings as well as the cost to implement, and replacing the wording of “project status reporting” with “initiative updates”. Remember, your choice of words really does matter.

This transition of wording and acceptance will be a case of evolution — not revolution. You should expect to play the role of coach and mentor during this process, and provide examples of what good looks like. Only by walking your talk will participants embrace that which you are trying to do.

To keep your project on track, you need 2 forms and templates. The forms should be simple and gather the essential information actually being used to inform the team of activities and updates. They should also be in a format that is comfortable for the team — Excel or Word are the obvious choice for many. Any more forms, templates, or control, will lead to a drop off in participation.

The 2 templates needed are:
Initiative One Pager: This shares what someone is doing, how he/she will do it, what’s in the scope and what is not, what’s the financial impact (savings and revenue), and when it will be complete.

Initiative Updates: This shares updates based on the information from the proposal. (Using Excel, you can have all data autofill from the Initiative One Pager.) What you want to track is whether the initiative is on track to be complete on time, will it do what it intended to do, and will it need more funds than originally allocated.

The journey to having all initiatives in an organization in total synch involves many phases. The first phase of simply creating a view of which initiatives are underway offers tremendous value. Initiatives will then be more effectively supported, and other areas of the business will become aware of what changes are scheduled. Overall, these forms and processes promote inter-group cooperation. The results you will see from using this single view of initiatives include: a more focused response to innovation, improved results, and completing those initiatives that are the most important to your organization.

*Scaling Agile Framework is a methodology suited for large organizations with many projects. It recommends taking an economic view of projects to gauge order of attention, delivery of quick tangible outcomes, and decentralized decision-making. Projects are managed in programs and portfolios.

About Ian Elgey

Ian Elgey is an ICT veteran with experience in strategic planning and leadership, program and project delivery, and operational management. Lives in Sydney, and active in the local ICT meetup scene.