Institutionalizing PPM: The Human Factor

By Jeff Monteforte

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As the axiom goes, “Any good idea can be implemented poorly!” Despite all the analysis, use of best practices, and diligent planning—even a well constructed PPM process—can produce detrimental results if not implemented properly.

As I’ve stated in previous columns, the PPM equation follows the 20/80 rule: 20% percent of PPM success is getting the process aspects right and 80% is getting the people or human behavior aspects right.

Like any deployment of a new or revised control process, your PPM method introduces change in the lives of people who must participate in it. As we all should know by now, the natural human response to change is to resist it.

This resistance comes in several forms and it is essential that you are aware of them and can recognize them. Moreover, there are techniques that you can employ up front that help avoid, or at least, minimize the behavior of resistance.

Overcoming Resistance

Let’s begin by understanding the primary emotions behind the different behaviors of resistance. For executives and senior managers, the introduction of PPM causes the emotional response of “loss of control." Where they once knew that if they screamed loud enough and long enough they’d get the attention of the CIO and the IT department.

The structured discipline of a PPM process is designed to quiet the “squeaky wheel,” thus eliminating the executives’ tried and true method of getting their IT projects worked on.

For middle managers and staff personnel, the introduction of PPM creates the feelings of “incompetence” and “lack of confidence,” because they now are required to follow a new process, with new forms, new responsibilities, new contact names, and the like.

So, let’s discuss how these emotions present themselves in the form of actions and behaviors and learn what tactics we can take to manage them.

Generalized Criticism

While accurate, well thought out critical feedback can improve a situation, generalized, broad-brushed criticism can be very damaging to a new idea being introduced inside a company.

There is always a subset of people who look at the introduction of a new idea as “open season” for sniping remarks. Most times these folks do not voice their opinions in open forums, but in private conversations in their cubicles or at the lunch table.

They attempt to build support by generalizing potential issues, such as, “This is just more bureaucracy. This is just another impediment to getting the work done.” Many times they sound so convincing and sure of themselves, they are rarely challenged to support their critical statements with facts.

The best way to manage these generic critics is to anticipate that they’ll appear as soon as your idea is introduced to the organization. The best way to head this off is to work with HR and senior business leaders and treat this issue as the larger organizational and cultural issue that it is.

Plan many public forums where critics can come and vent their frustrations. As critics appear, you must address them one at a time and make them accountable for their words. At every opportunity, challenge the critics to back up their statements with facts and be prepared to counter what they say with the facts that you have on the topic.

Welcome criticism, but shun unspecific and generalized disparaging comments and do it in public forums as much as possible.

The Agnostic Manager

Every company has their “wait-and-see” managers. These are managers afraid to take risk. Some might call them “survivors” because they always seem to avoid being in the cross hairs of upper management.

Their longevity is a direct result of their ability to avoid commitment to anything that is not readily accepted as the norm. In short, they do not rock the boat. Unfortunately, they don’t help row the boat either.

Their lack of commitment translates into a lack of active support and participation. Your job is to establish the environment that will not let these agnostics abandon their roles as change agents.

Similar to managing generic criticism, this behavior needs to be treated as the larger organizational and cultural issue that it is. So, prior to launching the new PPM process, work with HR and senior management to put the proper organizational mechanisms in place that no longer tolerates the do-nothing, agnostic manager.My preference is to have HR assist in writing a “contract to support change” that spells out the expected role and expectations for a manager. The contract could address several aspects, such as expected behavior, how their support will be measured, how this will impact their annual appraisal, incentives that can be earned, as well as penalties that may occur for lack of support.

Of course, each company is different and the contract must be tailored for the company. This is why I like asking HR to write it. Then, with senior management’s support, ask each manager to commit to the success of the PPM program.

You Said, What?

A lack of understanding nearly always results in a sensation of fear. The sense of fear nearly always results in resistance. Lack of communication, lack of proper education, and use of sloppy language is usually the root cause of a lack of understanding.

IT project portfolio management has a basic, yet unique language that is foreign to many business folks and a majority of IT professionals. As with any significant change, the roll-out of a PPM process requires a well planned communications plan.

The PPM communications should be leveraged to accomplish the following four objectives:

  • Educate the organization (business units and IT) on issues that justified the need for pursuing PPM;
  • Educate executives and managers on basic PPM terminology, so that they can properly represent and reinforce PPM throughout the organization;
  • Train the appropriate people throughout the organization who will be the practitioners of the PPM practice; and
  • Provide open and public forums to allow impacted individuals to voice concerns and feedback as well as give you the chance to directly challenge and disarm the “generic critic.”
  • Plausible Ignorance

    Despite your best efforts, some people will go out of their way to avoid acknowledging things have changed. They will say, “I assumed the change didn’t apply to my area.”, or “Why do we have to go through this process if the CEO says we have to do the project?”, and my personal favorite, “Its better to ask for forgiveness than seek permission.”

    This behavior makes its difficult to adopt any structured process, yet alone a highly visible process like PPM.

    An unfortunate truth is upper management will be the largest segment of this type of rogue behavior. Because of this, you will need to secure senior executive support prior to your PPM launch. You need to anticipate this form of resistance, get senior executives to acknowledge it is likely to occur, and get them to agree to shut down these rogues when they show themselves.

    Procedurally, you must tie the approval of project funds and resources to the selection and prioritization mechanisms of the PPM process.

    The Bottom Line

    If left unchecked, these resistors will not only stall the implementation of PPM in your company, but can likely submarine the whole effort causing PPM to become “an bureaucratic idea that doesn’t work”.

    So expect the resistors, be able to identify them when they begin their negative campaigns, and have the larger organization (i.e., HR and executive management) prepared and playing an active role to minimize and manage them. Once you have all this accomplished there is nothing left to do except, oh yeah, the work!

    Jeff Monteforte is president of Exential, a Cleveland, OH.-based information strategy consulting firm, which specializes in IT governance, information security and business intelligence solutions. He can be reached at jmonteforte@exentialonline.com.