Empowerment, autonomy, ownership – these buzzwords have rattled around for a few years now in relation to IT Project talent.
Most project managers, business analysts (etc) would agree that they have the power to schedule their own time, track their own progress and tasks and choose how they work, to some extent. It usually leads to improved performance – after all who knows how to do a job better than the person who does it day-in, day-out?!
What if you could take this improved individual performance and amplify it across your whole project or portfolio?
My PM friend Stu thinks you can – with OPEN-BOOK IT PROJECT MANAGEMENT.
Many project teams (and broader firms and organisations) will have some sort of empowerment initiative (even if they don’t call it that), a sense of ‘self-determination’ does create a feeling of proprietorship over your workday and to-do list – but herein also lay a challenge for Stu.
Stu had noticed that ‘responsibility for self’ had started to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, team members were responsible, but only for themselves (or at least their team) with little focus or attention on their wider business unit or organisation. Individuals were improving – individually! After years of breaking down a silo mentality within their operation, remote or hybrid working patterns had created an environment where project team colleagues again felt boxed into their specific roles and responsibility.
You can argue that this is OK. I mean, everyone sticking to their lane and remaining super-focussed on their individual output – that’s great, right?
Except, in some cases it was leading to what Stu described as “mission myopia” – everyone concentrating on their individual tasks but not how their cog fitted the wider machinery.
Naturally, if everyone performs as expected, the project comes together (that is how our PM magic works) but at best Stu felt that there was another level of performance to be achieved. At worst, when things didn’t go to plan, Stu noticed that there was scope for finger-pointing and a blame culture: “We did our bit!” was a common cry!
So, having noticed that his team of empowered individuals felt a huge responsibility for themselves but not as much for the whole project (or the wider business) and that the organisation was leaking potential value as a result, Stu conducted a thought experiment.
Can we magnify observable individual gains to create a cross-organisational sense of responsibility and ownership?
OPEN-BOOK IT PROJECT MANAGEMENT
The term open-book management (let’s call it OBM) is not a new thing, I think you can trace its origins back to the mid-1980s and it is pretty self-explanatory, ‘does what it says on the tin’ stuff. A company would literally throw open its books and educate and encourage its people to take a ‘big picture’ view of the operation, in the same way that senior executives did. Soon, a culture of shared understanding would evolve, and the company’s employees became better at aligning their personal performance and development with the broader business need.
Open-book management led to employees solving problems faster, they spotted potential challenges before they impacted, they innovated and adapted quicker, collaborated more and generally just felt they had purpose and were part of something bigger.
Stu remembered learning about open book management at business school, recalled how some firms that adopted it boasted of consistent growth year after year, and he wondered if it would work to boost the output of his project teams. He applied these key principles and components of Open Book Management to IT Project Management:
1 – Financial Transparency: OBM requires companies share financial information such as revenue, expenses, profits, and budgetary data with employees. Stu had found that members of his project team were ‘doing their thing’ but if pushed on how their project was delivering against forecast, they struggled, an attitude that ‘it’s someone else’s job to watch the numbers’ had developed, especially since lockdown. Financial transparency helped Stu’s team understand the financial health of the project and wider organisation and how their work contributes to its success. With a greater awareness of the budget and the impact any action had upon it, Stu’s team became better at financial housekeeping.
Also, what Stu calls an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ culture had emerged, remote team members were less likely to jump on a new task at 2pm on a Friday afternoon, having completed their current one – instead they’d leave it till Monday. A better understanding of the financials led to a greater appreciation of the value of those hours in terms of the overall project.
To make sense of financial data, Stu’s team were given training and education in basic financial concepts, the plan being that if everyone could read financial statements and understand key performance indicators (KPIs), the whole project would benefit – which it did.
2 – Empowerment: The OBM theory empowers employees by involving them in decision-making processes that impact their work and the wider organisation. In Stu’s team, this has included setting performance targets; identifying cost-saving opportunities; recognising need and talent gaps and suggesting where Project Management as a Service resources could help; and making strategic decisions.
The sense of ownership is growing, as reflected in regular post-project staff surveys. Team members say they feel more responsible for the team and wider company’s performance and success.
3 – Communication: Effective communication is crucial in OBM and can also be a natural bi-product. As regular meetings, catch-ups and discussions are held to share financial and budget updates etc, extra opportunities to discuss project progress, and address questions or concerns have also arisen.
4 – Continuous Improvement: OBM encourages a culture of continuous improvement, where employees are encouraged to identify inefficiencies, suggest improvements, and help the company become more competitive. Stu believes that this has led to the identification of more deliverables and realisation of extra benefits.
Improvements have been recorded in individual performance, team cohesion and output, and overall organisational standards.
5 – Trust and Accountability: If it’s executed well, OBM fosters trust between management and employees. Transparency and shared decision-making have built confidence that everyone is working towards common goals and there’s greater accountability as each team member’s contribution to the company’s financial performance, the project’s context within the business mission, and their role in achieving project and business success, is more clearly defined.
Open Book Management promotes transparency by sharing project goals, budgets, timelines, and performance metrics with the project team.
6 – Innovation: By sharing information and encouraging open discussions, OBM can promote innovation within the project team.
Stu’s team members are now more likely to suggest improvements and new ideas, like Project Management as a Service resources, such as a Business Analyst via Business Analysis as a Service (BaaaS) – because they feel they have a genuine stake in the project’s success.
I believe that challenge is often the stimulus for innovation, Stu’s team have developed a ‘hive-mind’ for spotting gaps, irregularities, roadblocks, budget issues, etc, before they happen and not just in their own limited sphere but across the project. As a result, they are innovating solutions in areas of the project that, perhaps a year ago, would have been something of a blind spot to them.
I.T.O.B.P.M – WORTH A SHOT?
Open Book Management can be applied in various types of organisations, from small businesses to large corporations, and across different industries. I have never seen it specifically applied, with such great success, to IT Project Management.
While it undoubtedly offers several benefits, such as improved employee engagement, better decision-making, and increased financial literacy across the whole team, Stu emphasises that it also requires a solid commitment to genuine transparency and a true and authentic culture of collaboration.
Implementing OBM in IT project management requires careful planning and consideration of the specific needs and dynamics of the project team. It’s important to strike a balance between transparency and information overload and to ensure that the information shared is relevant to the team’s work and goals.
Open Book Management may not be suitable for all types of projects nor all project management teams and organisations, it has to be tailored to fit the context and culture of the project management environment. That said, Stu believes that implementing an Open Book Management approach has led to a more informed and motivated workforce, and a team that is more aligned with the company’s objectives and culture.
My conclusion: This was one thought experiment that transferred very well into the real world, it won’t be for everyone, but the results it delivered are! In these (still) uncertain times, the value of having a motivated team, who are alert to and switched on across the whole project, and aligned with the wider business mission, with no resource or capability gaps, is huge!
On a selfish note, it’s no bad thing that Stu’s OBM has given more members of his team the mandate to be on the look-out for opportunities for Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service resources, from PMO to BAs, PMs to advisory. Ever grateful for the chance to evangelise about Stoneseed’s innovative PMaaS resourcing model, you probably know this, I’m like an open-book!