Resistance to change is not new……

My last couple of posts on the subject of change and executive leadership generated a range of comments many suggesting if we did ‘better project management’ the problems would be resolved. Unfortunately for this to be true, the organisation still needs executive buy-in and leadership to support the process, in fact demand better project management.

An article in the December edition of ‘project’, the journal of the UK Association of Project Management (APM) by Martin Samphire, a committee member on both the APM Governance SIG and the APM Portfolio Management SIG highlights more project failures. This time the FiReControl project which was described by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee as ‘one of the worst cases of project failure the committee has seen’, followed by a catalogue of fundamental failures; and the NHS Connecting for Health program which is beset by weak program management.

The UK industry and Government know how to deliver large complex programs, the work of the Olympic Development Authority is a world class example; it’s just that many other managements simply choose to ignore good practice, or more accurately refuse to change to allow good practice to be introduced.

The challenge of getting senior management to actively support change that brings better systems into use to the benefit of the organisation they work for is not new. Henry Gantt had similar problems introducing his systems that demonstrably increased production by over 100% and massively increased profits. Here are a few of his comments:

  • The changing of a system of management is a very serious matter and cannot be done by a superintendent in his spare time (Work Wages & Profits, p168).
  • In every workroom there is a fashion, a habit of work, and every new worker follows that fashion, for it isn’t respectable not to (Work Wages & Profits, p186).
  • The most casual investigation into the reasons why so many of the munition manufacturers have not made good, reveals the fact that their failure is due to lack of managerial ability rather than to any other cause (Organizing for Work, p64).
  • Our most serious trouble is incompetency in high places. As long as that remains uncorrected, no amount of efficiency in the workmen will avail very much (Organizing for Work, p64).
  • Our industries are suffering from lack of competent managers,—which is another way of saying that many of those who control our industries hold their positions, not through their ability to accomplish results, but for some other reason (Organizing for Work, p64).

By the way, Henry was also less than impressed with the bankers of his time as well: “No …laws…. have so far been framed that restrain the ‘high financier’ who, without giving anything in return, taxes the community for his own benefit to an extent that makes all other forms of acquiring without giving an adequate return seem insignificant.”

The framework needed by senior executives is well established the APM has just published the 2nd edition of Directing Change – a guide to the governance of project management (60,000 copies of the 1st edition have been distributed since publication in 2004). This guide is written by senior managers for senior managers. It provides clear overall guidance to an organisation’s governing body (board or equivalent) and executives on their responsibilities and more specific guidance on choosing the right projects (portfolio direction), project sponsorship, project management capability and disclosure and reporting. Copies can be downloaded from the APM website or:

Martin Samphire’s view is that applying good governance in their management is 80% of the answer to successful projects. I feel he is understating the importance of the role and responsibility of the senior executives, particularly when it comes to the process of changing an organisations culture to accept good governance and effective project management!


2 responses to “Resistance to change is not new……

  1. I believe that to accept change on a senior management level requires the executive to be risk aware of all aspects of this change. Often, such change is stopped or ignored due to its impact.
    Such impact could be that certain actions should have been handled for many years but didn’t – so, that change might better be stopped because else the executive would end up having to answer uncomfortable questions to stakeholders.
    Another impact analysis could be, that with the change in mind, the power position inside the company would shift to a different department VP and therewith endanger the mid term future position and financial benefits of the executive having to decide on this matter today.

    In the end, we have to acknowledge that we are all humans and act as such, in all social levels. We protect ourselves and the ones we love in all regards – including our social and financial surroundings.
    Only when knowing the above and yourself very well, you yourself will allow such a change to grow in your inside; and you, as such an executive will take such a decision having understood what impact it will have in a short to mid-term scope, based on what you believe you can do, without failing yourself but fostering a healthy balance between new ways of work and your companies stability.

  2. A spot on post Lynda, and Edgar’s comment on the politics of change is a good follow-up.

    As a PM software vendor, I talk to a lot of people about project success and failure, and in my opinion the underlying foundation of failure is people’s aversion to change. If management is unwilling/unable to change, because of politics or any other driver, then those below them are saddled with bad processes or lack of proper support, or both. Even worse, without leadership to set the example, those below often balk at any change as well, creating a bad and repeating situation.

    Obviously, this is a bit generalizing, and there are many reasons projects ultimately fail, but this is certainly a common culprit.

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