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I’m feeling upbeat today. After a grey start, the sun is shining as I write this. A neighbour has some builders in (that’s a sign that things are picking up) and their radio just played Yazz’s The Only Way Is Up.
And Yazz’s little musical time capsule sent from 1988 is right, things are picking up – both for the IT Project economy and the economy in general.
A survey by IHS Markit found that UK’s Services Sector was emerging from the depression caused by the Covid-19 lockdown and that the sector was expanding at its fastest pace since 2015. The purchasing managers’ index (PMI) reading was 56.5 in July - an increase from June’s 47.1 and a vast improvement on April’s (all-time record low) of 13.4.
PMIs are a measure, on a scale of 1 to 100, of private sector activity. Anything over the halfway point (50) is an indicator of growth, whereas a figure below that signals contraction. 56.5 is a very welcome number!!
The services sector, which includes finance, law, retail, engineering, and consulting, is crucial to the British economy. Accounting, as it does, for about 80% of the UK’s economic output, it is also a pretty accurate barometer of where we are it in our post Covid-19 recovery - 38% of respondents reported an increase in business activity in July.
And it is, for us at least, borne out in an increase in IT Project Management activity this past two months.
A word of caution though, PMIs measure the rate of change, it should be remembered that we’re coming back from April’s pretty low starting point so while this a good indicator of a rise inactivity, it does not mean that the services sector has recovered from the impact of the lockdown.
It does mean though that we have moved onto our next normal – this is certainly the case in IT Project Management.
The Next Phase of ‘Normal’
This new phase of normal is all about change. IT Project teams have always been facilitators of change – if ever there was a moment for us to shine! The IT Programme Managers I’m talking to are telling me about fast-paced projects, particularly Business Change ones, many of them are existing projects that have been re-focussed, but an encouraging number of new ‘change’ projects are getting green-lighted.
If I were to sum up, I’d say the majority of live IT Projects right now are delivering and facilitating business change over business growth.
The thing is, it’s often not considered as “sexy” and IT Project teams have been known not to bring their “A-game” to a change project. One Project Manager friend put it well – “It can be like the difference between building a new bathroom and cleaning your old one” – this needs a reframe. Especially now.
Regular readers know that I’m a football fan, Manchester United are my team (it’s been a rough weekend, I’m writing this just after our exit from Europe!).
A business growth, market-disrupting IT Project can feel like getting your head psyched up for a 3 pm August Saturday kick-off against Manchester City at the Etihad – easy to get fired up about. In contrast, a business change project can feel like a cold, wet, wintry, Tuesday night League Cup tie at Barnsley (no offence to my Tykes fan friends). The point is, we need to approach both as equally important. In many ways, that game away at Oakwell might be your only chance of a trophy and could save the season. Turn up to win!
We need to see our less sexy change projects through the same lens as the shiny, vibrant, exciting, pioneering projects.
There are a number of areas where this happens – areas where IT Project teams can perform less well on a ‘change’ project than they do in a ‘growth’ project and it think it is worth listing them.
6 Failure Flashpoints of IT Change Projects and How To Avoid Them
(AREAS TO CHECK THAT YOU’RE BRINGING YOUR ‘A-GAME’ TO A CHANGE PROJECT)
1 - Define the scope of the project – properly!!
The most common “failure factor” is the failure to define appropriate scope for the “business change” project. Weird right? If this were a project delivering exciting market-disrupting growth we’d be all over this!
In many failed IT change projects, objective are not keyed to specific business results. Often, the project is too large scale, too diffused, and other times there’s a failure to identify specific, the roles and responsibilities of team members.
Sometimes, project teams attempt incremental change, to keep the staff happy (no-one likes change) whereas something more radical was needed to lead to effective change – which brings us nicely onto the next “fail factor”.
2 - Never underestimate the impact of human factors
If only I had a pound for every time I’d read some variation of “resistance to change” as the cause of death of an IT change project!! I would be very rich!
There was a survey recently that validates our collective resistance to change. Eight of ten of us hate change! We choose the same meal when we order takeaway, we sit in the same seat to watch TV in our living rooms, we always sleep on the same side of the bed. We want today to be the same as yesterday – this is a hard-wired survival technique from the days when there sabre toothed tigers outside our caves, we survived yesterday, yesterday was safe, repeat yesterday!
Change at work can be an emotional roller coaster, managed appropriately it need not get out of control. In change IT projects it often isn’t managed appropriately, it does get out of control and the intended change isn’t realised as a result.
3 - Be Robust Around Communication
When it comes to change projects, communication issues seem more prevalent than in other project post mortem debriefs. From massively under communicating the project vision to not being clear about what success looks like, from lack of communication with the wider organisation outside the project team to declaring victory way too early, project teams can fall foul of comms fails that they would ordinarily avoid.
When embarking on an IT change project double down on your communication disciplines!
4 - Make sure your metrics are fit for purpose
This is another area where teams who normally are hot in all areas can come unstuck when contemplating a business change initiative through IT.
There are often two main problem areas with change project metrics:
5 – Pick your best possible team
To return to my earlier football analogy, when picking your team for that wintry Tuesday night game in Barnsley, you might be tempted to turn up with an understrength squad, let the reserves have a run out, give the academy kids a break … but if you really want to win that game you need your multi-million pound striker on the team bus.
The assignment of “average performers” to the project team is a common mistake made by project teams attacking a change project, pick an elite squad – always.
If you would normally bring in a Project Management as a Service resource to deliver an IT Project – why wouldn’t you use them for something as important as change?
In conclusion, I find this current phase quite exciting, but then I actually get a buzz out of facilitating business change through an IT Project! More than this though, it feels like things are starting to move again – and what’s not to love about that. Certainly more fun than cleaning a bathroom. Or watching Manchester United crash out of Europe!