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Straight Talk on Project Management

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In I.T. Together: How and Why to Lead Blame-Free I.T. Projects

How an IT Project Management team handles and learns from mistakes and setbacks can significantly impact success, not just for the current project but across your whole current portfolio – and future projects too.

At Stoneseed, we have the privilege of working very closely with a wide range of project teams: as a provider of IT Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) resources; Project Management Office (PMO) advisory and support; and Stoneseed’s P3MO Platform (our new innovative, structured and strategic approach to managing projects and programmes).

Organisations who don’t have a blame culture, who learn and grow together (rather than seeking to single out and point the finger), are enjoying greater levels of project success.

In I.T. Together

“We’re In I.T. Together” was a deliberately cheesy but eye-catching message my colleague saw in a slideshow, on a project team’s wall-mounted-TV, a year or so ago. It was part of a new culture of banishing blame to create an “open and transparent, healthy, productive, and innovative work environment” after this organisation had identified a spike in IT Project delivery issues, delays, overspends, errors and scope creep that nobody was flagging up until it was too late.

Why?

It started after an IT project had failed spectacularly a little over two years earlier. The project’s failure had tarnished the brand and company’s reputation.

The subsequent “post-mortem” was scathing and personal, rather than establishing the lessons that could be learned, enquiries focussed on who was to blame. Threats were made of placing the team in special measures, micro-monitoring performance and even talent dismissal.

While the intentions were good (tough love to drive better outcomes), what emerged was a culture of back-covering, mistake hiding and reluctance to innovate. In an attempt to protect their operation, the leadership had almost suffocated it.

About a year ago, a change of leadership allowed a rethink. Blame, as we’ve heard, is now banished, whistleblowing and owning your mistakes is encouraged and rewarded.

12 months later, my colleague checked back in, and the difference is already measurable!

Nine Powerful Benefits of Leading Blame-Free It Projects

(as reported by a team that committed to achieving it!)

  1. Encourages risk-taking, innovation, a learning culture and continuous improvement
  2. Boosts team collaboration and builds trust
  3. Improves communication
  4. Boosts morale and motivation, reduces stress and anxiety
  5. Increases job satisfaction and engagement, reduces turnover and retains talent.
  6. Enhances problem-solving and decision-making – blame-free teams focus on solutions
  7. Encourages diversity of perspectives (people are more forthcoming with ideas)
  8. Improves project outcomes, continuity and success
  9. Encourages accountability without fear

Strong Pmo, Robust Governance, A Fit for Purpose Portfolio Platform and Fully Resourced Projects.

A blame-free culture requires commitment and effort – from all levels of the business. Leaders must set the tone by modelling positive attitudes and behaviours and reinforcing the values of trust and collaboration.

FOUR KEY elements help:

Strong PMO, Robust governance, A fit for purpose portfolio platform, and fully resourced projects.

Real-time transparency across your portfolio significantly reduces the need for blame.

Imagine two projects experience the same problem: Team A’s data-led management platform allows them to identify and fix the issue promptly; Team B doesn’t identify the issue in real-time and it impacts the outcome hugely. When these two teams come to review “lessons learned”, Team B might find themselves looking for the smoking gun, asking what went wrong and who is responsible, even if they have informative data from the flare point, human nature still leans into asking “whose fault?”

Team A will have repeatable lessons and a scalable success story.

PMO and P3MO

Stoneseed’s new P3MO Platform, which is constructed on Microsoft Office 365 technology, has been designed to achieve this level of transparency (and more).

Improving your governance and reporting capabilities with established or new toolsets, is a key factor in PMO development and success and eliminating blame. Microsoft’s 365 platform has the tools to reduce the need to point the finger retrospectively, but many teams are not accessing the full potential of these IT Project cloud technologies. Deployed together, Planner (Microsoft Project), PowerApps, Teams, Forms, Automate, and Power BI can deliver collaboration, automation, integration and powerful business intelligence.

Stoneseed offer expert build and rollout for our P3MO platform, plus PMO advisory services (whether that’s establishing a PMO, or refining/supporting your existing PMO), and a complete Project Management Office (PMO) range of services from resource provision to a full PMO service package via a Managed Service.

Project Management as a Service

The leaders of the IT project team mentioned earlier, when designing their blame free culture, realised that a lot of finger-pointing was a result of talent gaps and shortages. This manifested in two ways: either with inhouse colleagues “winging it” and “out of their depth” due to an absence of talent with appropriate capabilities; or just a simple lack of depth in numbers that led to team members being over stretched.

Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) is the perfect one-stop shop whether you need more appropriate resources or just more hands-on-deck when you need them.

From Finger-Pointing to Forward-Accountability

It’s not just IT Project Management.

Very recently, The British Medical Association (BMA) surveyed doctors from around the UK in 2018 and again in 2024 and found that a rising proportion of doctors will now not blow the whistle over patient safety concerns for fear of retribution. Three out of five (61%) of those polled in 2024 said they may not raise concerns because they were “afraid” they could be “unfairly blamed or suffer adverse consequences”.

Other industries have reported similar, in his book, Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed cites a report by Harvard Business School that found executives believed that while only around 2 to 5% of the failures in their organisations were truly blameworthy, the percentage of mistakes that were treated as blame-worthy was between 70 to 90%.

As in the case of the IT Project team earlier, there is a widespread management opinion that blame, and punishment have a disciplinary effect. By stigmatising mistakes and coming down hard on those responsible, managers think that staff will take notice and become more diligent and more motivated.

In reality, the opposite is often true.

As Syed writes, “… if professionals think they are going to be blamed for honest mistakes, why would they be open about them? If they do not trust their managers to take the trouble to see what really happened, why would they report what is going wrong, and how can the system adapt?”

Conclusion

None of this is to say that blame and even punishment aren’t appropriate sometimes. If you discover a project has failed through wilful negligence or is over budget because a colleague has been acting fraudulently … a softly-softly approach won’t cut it.

In most cases though, choosing learning over blaming is more than just a feel-good motivational strategy – it’s instrumental in creating a positive and productive work environment and better project outcomes. Eliminating blame for genuine errors or missteps from which you can learn encourages trust, it enhances communication, and promotes continuous development. It boosts team morale and engagement, delivering more innovative solutions and more successful project outcomes.

I wouldn’t blame you for considering it!

Could a blame-free culture help your IT projects thrive? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Can Stoneseed help YOU with those key elements for a blame free culture: Strong Pmo; Robust Governance; A Fit for Purpose Portfolio Platform; And Fully Resourced It Projects?

Call 01623 723910 to find out more.

More about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed

 

 

Sources:

https://www.stoneseed.co.uk/pmo-services/

https://www.stoneseed.co.uk/project-management-as-a-service/

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/uk-news/2024/06/23/rising-proportion-of-doctors-will-not-blow-the-whistle-for-fear-of-retribution/

Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success by Matthew Syed

https://amzn.eu/d/iCKRStz