If too many projects fail to deliver their promises, project practitioners, project leaders, and especially PMOs can make their projects better succeed when they draw on human dynamics. Among them, 3 are most important: developing a people-oriented project cause, building a community of decentralized change agents, and creating a buddy system.
The number one target of any project is neither a financial benefit nor a market share. The number one target for any project is always the population it serves.
“What’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships” says Danny Meyer, CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG)[i].
This is now so new. Four centuries B.C., the Chinese Confucian philosopher Mencius[ii] already wrote that “The people are the most important element in a nation; the spirits of the land and grain are the next; the sovereign is the least”.
Today, many great leaders develop practical ways to put people at the first place. Among them, the charismatic, then fifty-year old CEO of HCL Technologies, Vineet Nayar[iii], promoted his radical management philosophy “Employees First, Customers Second” or “EFCS.” Management’s focus on employee culture as a competitive differentiator led to a remarkable turnaround in HCL’s market share and mind share, over a period starting from 2005 until this date. EFCS was initially driven by management and embraced by employees. Over the years, however, the concept has taken on new meaning by becoming employee-driven and management-embraced in the form of programs and initiatives driven by employees.
Successful project practioners also put people at the very first place in their everyday life. Numerous ways to realize this exist. However I would like to share with you 3 actions in the domain of human dynamics that have been most effective in my own work within the project management area.
1. Develop a people-oriented project cause
A large complex project bears similarities with revolutionary wars. The population is at the core of the project as it is at the center of a revolution. The project team has mostly one asset, which is the power of the cause the project is supporting. The organization has control on most other assets, from the command and control system to the infrastructure and the project budget.
Therefore a project must have a great and powerful cause. This cause must answer real needs of people. The very strength of a project is assessed by the extent of support to its cause from the population it concerns. A cause must answer a problem, a need, or a desire. No problem, no cause. The problem can be political, social, economic, racial, or virtual. The cause must present positive elements for each and everyone, not only for a minority.
These positive outcomes are both personal gains for the individuals adopting the cause, and organizational benefits for the organization as a whole. The cause must be seducing and able to touch hearts. The project manager, its team and its PMO, must understand that words are the connection between them and their stakeholders. These words must be credible and clear.
Here is one example. Essilor, the world’s largest producer of eyeglass lenses is dedicated to “improving lives by improving sight.” What a great cause when you remember that 4.5 billion people need vision correction, with 2.5 billion living with uncorrected vision problems!
Isn’t sharing a coffee and macarons an appealing cause?
Before you start a project, make sure that it is supported by an appealing cause serving first the interests of all those who will benefit from this project.
You do not build a plant. You develop a business serving a population. You do not build an opera house. You build “a place to take in a spectacular horizon, then broaden your own.” as expressed by the Sydney Opera House
How can you develop a great cause? Here is a simple approach. Gather a certain number of your stakeholders, internal and external, from bottom to top. Create a number of teams with around five to seven people. Ask them to describe their environment once your project successfully delivered. Assign in each group a writer and an interviewer (each being also able to participate and give their opinion), and then listen to the findings. The program cause (and even more) is in your hands.
2. Create Your Community of Decentralized Change Agents
A great cause does not fly in the air by itself. People like ideas promoted by individuals they trust. These individuals are like nodes in a network. Build a community of decentralized trust change agents well embedded in the population. The change agent at the origin of a cause, as well as the project manager, the PMO, and all project stakeholders must also be identified with the cause. Remember Gandhi saying that “the change agent must be the change.”
An alliance of decentralized change agents is the secret ingredient of successful indirect project management approaches. Only a community of allied change agents can overcome the vertical barriers and silos traditional vertical management cannot overcome. As soon as you need to drive a collective action, the importance of allies emerges. Management by influence replaces hierarchical management in an alliance that is driven by a temporary shared and balanced interest in a specific cause.
Such an informal trust network of local relays forms a community you will animate around your appealing cause. A community is more than the informal trust network often cited in management books. A community is “a group of nodes that have a higher likelihood of connecting to each other than to nodes from other communities[iv].” The level of connectedness and the intensity of the connections will allow development while each of the individuals forming this community will still belong to other communities, including their own local organization. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a French aviator and writer, tells us that:
The greatness of a profession is above all uniting human beings; there is only one true luxury and that is human relationships[v].
A sustainable alliance of trusted agents is built over time, not in a short duration. Trust requires a quality dialog, kept commitments, and mutual respect. While tactical alliances exist, only strategic long-term ones present the characteristics of robustness and sustainability required in large complex transformation programs.
An alliance is possible here since most allies are equals while the project leadership team, and especially its leader and its PMO, is a “primus inter pares.” Groups of people in a true alliance treat each other as equals. They work together to meet a common goal like delivering a shared project objective. Allies make decisions together and deal with the consequences of their decisions jointly. Once its goal is reached, this alliance may dissolve. The shared goal is the nucleus of the partnership.
If partners of the alliance are of unequal power or level, they have a more really patron-client type of relationships. This relationship is based on a prior obligation rather than a partnership centered on a common goal. The patron-client relationship must start with a gift and we know that there is no such thing as a free gift. If someone gives us a gift, then we are obliged to give something or do something in return. The gift giver becomes the patron of the gift receiver, who becomes the client. Such a gift can be an official status within a high-visibility project, or a place around a steering committee table.
Change agents are like water pearls on a spider web
The very first step you have to take is to identify and to create a community relying on local relays who will act as decentralized change agents. They will be proxies to further the transformation goals in their own direct environment. They will be local agents willing and capable to act as local proxies of the transformation.
The candidates for such a role have to possess three capabilities relating to the alignment and the execution of the project.
- The first capability is to feed the project strategy with his organization’s strategy in order to make sure the program answers the organization’s goals.
- The second capability is to feed his organization’s strategy with the project strategy in order to make sure that the organization will contribute to the program objectives.
- The third capability is to put in place and run specific governance, methods, and tools that help realize and monitor its progress and benefits achievement.
3. Make This Community Become a Buddy System
A buddy system brings together people, the “buddies.” These people then operate as a single unit. They constantly monitor and help each other. The buddy system is a long-term indefectible relationship of trust and support between two individuals. Buddies must share the hard work each day. They must develop a mutual trust nothing will destroy. They must be ready to share the pains and gains. They must be linked from the beginning until the end of their endeavor, whatever the outcome. Each buddy must have his skin in the same game.
If you are a Project Management Officer, create a buddy system with your project leader. If you are a Project Leader, create a buddy system with your sponsor.
When PMOs and Project Leaders are buddies, success Is around the corner
Dan Vasella, former Novartis CEO, said that[vi] every CEO needs someone who can listen—a board member, an adviser—someone to whom he can speak in total confidence, to whom he can say, “I’ve had it; I’m about to resign.” Or, “I really want to beat this guy up.” You need someone who understands and can help you to find the balance.
Great pairs of individuals have often been at the origin of great success in organizational development. Look at one of the best known buddy systems, where Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak launched Apple in 1976. Another wonderful example is given by the Michelin brothers, Andre and Edouard. They founded the Michelin Company in 1889 with 52 employees. Michelin is still today one of the best and most successful company.
Many high-level leaders want a buddy. Joseph Ackermann, the former CEO of Deutsche Bank[vii] stated that
leaders must create cultures of constructive skepticism and surround themselves with people who bring multiple perspectives and have no fear of challenging the boss.
The very first level of buddy system you have to create concerns the onboarding of new team members. Assign him or her to a workplace buddy.
And go as far as possible on your way to develop a buddy system. As Larry Fowler, BUDS Class 89 Graduated, reminds[viii]:
“A good swim buddy will stoke your inner fires to be a winner! He is always turbo-charged and in-your-face to keep you motivated to complete each BUDS evolution. And you’re returning the favor. He reminds you to take one evolution at a time. He’s there to jet-propel you when you’re down and will get between you and the ‘bell’ if – and when – you get knocked down. If you’re on a six mile ocean swim and you suck water, he has two choices… carry you or suck water too. You’re one.”
To Your Continued Success!
[This article is inspired by the book: “The High-Impact PMO, How Can Agile PMO Deliver Value in a Complex World” I have published in October and that is available on Amazon]
If you want to contact me, please get to www.philippehusser.com
[i] Cited by Richard Branson in « Three things I look for in pitches,” www.virgin.com
[iii] V. Nayar, Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional management Upside Down, 2010, Harvard Business Review Press.
[iv] Albert-László Barabási, Network Science
[v] Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Terre des Hommes, Translated into English as Wind, Sand and Stars (1939).
[vi] McKinsey, Leading in the 21st century, 2012.
[vii] McKinsey, Leading in the 21st century, 2012.
This book offers an innovative view of what is taking place in the world of project management offices, and gives valuable insights that will allow you to successfully navigate the increasing complexity of our modern world.