Project Management Institute

Agents of change

When moving from an ad hoc process culture to a performance-focused enterprise, executives can make all the difference.


Francena Gargaro, Director, Regional
Project Management Group, Americas,
Exel, Westerville, Ohio, USA

by Samuel Greengard
photos by Michael Blackwell

If there's one thing that Andrew Worsnopp has learned in the more than nine years of overseeing major enterprise initiatives, it's that success is more than a collection of benchmarks, metrics and project guidelines. Without the right people skills and an emphasis on affecting positive cultural change, even the best technical and logistical planning is likely to go awry. “People are at the core of a project,” he says.


img Many organizations are evolving from ad hoc cultures to focused project management approaches. To effectively manage change, executives must adeptly link people issues to performance, growth and efficiency.

img Executives must support a change initiative through words and actions, providing both the needed tools and authority.

img Project managers provide the leadership skills necessary to cultivate focused teams.

img Executives must make the reasons for change clear to help organizational buy-in.


Mr. Worsnopp takes the concept seriously. As director of organizational effectiveness at KeySpan Corp., a Brooklyn, N.Y., USA-based energy services and delivery firm, he ensures all the pieces of the puzzle fit. Since 1999, KeySpan, which had $6.65 billion in 2004 sales, has evolved from the merger of three large Northeast U.S. utilities. He has led an enterprise initiative to integrate business process reengineering with the creation of a high-performance culture. That, in turn, provides the foundation for strategic initiatives that enable sustainable growth, operating efficiency and financial performance.

“A key part of the strategy was to link people issues to performance, growth and efficiency,” Mr. Worsnopp says. “To develop a culture able to undergo continuous improvement, we are building an environment that is more participatory and empowering. Workers must go beyond understanding the reasons for change within the organization; they have to believe that it is important to the sustained viability of the company and that they will see benefits.” Today, KeySpan has achieved many of its project goals while continuing on its long-term strategy to develop a high-performance culture.




Neville Jackson,
Director of Planning & Governance,
The Department of Education, Science and Training,
Information Services Group, Australia

img KeySpan isn't alone. As a growing number of organizations move away from an ad hoc culture in favor of a focused project management approach, leadership and cultural change emerge as huge challenges. Yet, establishing a culture that embraces project management doesn't happen without hard work. “Success requires equal parts technical acumen and behavioral science,” says Martha Legare, CEO of Ann Arbor, Mich., USA-based project management consulting firm The Gantt Group. “Without management having an attitude of collaboration in changing the culture, employees will sabotage an initiative—either consciously or unconsciously.”

Although transforming an organization isn't for the faint of heart, a growing number of companies recognize that the right attitude and approach can unlock the door to greater success.

The idea of focusing on the human side of the equation is nothing new. As early as 1911, researcher Frederick W. Taylor introduced the notion of personality testing in his landmark book Principles of Scientific Management. He also sought ways to standardize the behavior of workers to increase efficiency and production and was among the first to design factories around the way people worked. Today, some project managers are taking cues from Mr. Taylor and examining people and culture in a more holistic way.

imgThe key to success in project management is driving significant cultural change, according to J. Kent Crawford, PMP, PMI Fellow, president of Havertown, Pa., USA-based consulting firm PM Solutions. Almost universally, this approach requires a focus on developing senior-level support, communicating success, identifying superior team managers and adopting a highly refined team selection process, a high standard of truthfulness and a sense of ambassadorship—the selling of the project up and down the organization.

Senior-level support is an especially tricky component. Executives at the highest levels of the organization must support the initiative through words and actions. However, they also must provide the tools, mechanisms and structure to ensure success. Organizations fall down, Mr. Crawford says, in building an ad hoc organizational structure in which various project managers wind up pulling against each other rather than working together. “Too often, they lack the support of other departments and divisions,” he says. “Coordination and consistency are paramount.”


By identifying the key baseline processes and expectations and creating a viable framework, we were able to achieve buy-in from the vast majority of employees.

—Francena Gargaro

Spinning a tight orbit around a unified effort is cohesive and focused communication plan. Executives and managers must thoroughly understand the message the enterprise is trying convey, the intended recipient and how to maximize the effectiveness of spreading the word. Whether the organization uses newsletters, meetings, email blasts, video, blogs or online message boards, “it is essential to create touch points that repeat the message in various forms,” he says.




Barbara Spitzer,
Senior Consultant, Watson Wyatt Worldwide,
New York, N.Y., USA

imgExecutives also tend to overlook matching project managers with teams. Too often, an organization chooses leaders based on technical knowledge and competencies without examining people skills. Mr. Crawford believes that 70 percent of what constitutes a highly effective project manager centers on an individual's ability to lead, influence others, master political skills, maintain a high level of interaction and communicate in an honest and inclusive way. In an ideal scenario, project managers receive leadership training so that they're able to harness the traits that top performers in the organization use to achieve results.


A new initiative is Likely to elicit a range of emotions, from exuberance to resistance. Gaining commitment and ensuring that support for a project doesn't fizzle over time requires a deft touch.

Martha Legare, CEO of consulting firm The Gantt Group, believes that when employees understand the value of a project and see gains for both themselves and the company, they're far more willing to embrace change. In addition, organizations that create alignment between the technical and cultural aspects of project management are likely to minimize disillusionment. “The best project management strategy in the world cannot ensure success,” she says. “It's necessary to have highly motivated and engaged participants.”

Getting project managers to understand and relate to the problems that workers face also is essential. At KeySpan, every manager and change agent doesn't have to possess a full arsenal of skills—the organization provides training—but certain baseline qualities are essential. Management looks for project managers who are visible, accessible, engaging, empathetic and authentic. “We try to identify the critical few people who are really the drivers of change,” says Andrew Worsnopp, director of organizational effectiveness.

Keeping workers engaged over weeks, months or years can prove equally daunting. However, organizations that provide ongoing progress reports and celebrate their successes are far more likely to keep project participants on track, says Barbara Spitzer, a senior consultant at Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

A Unified Message

At Exel, a third-party logistics firm based in Westerville, Ohio, USA, the cultural aspects of project management have evolved into a core focus. In January 2004, the company—which serves the likes of Proctor and Gamble, DaimlerChrysler and DuPont—launched a global change management project designed to create consistent processes and behavior throughout the global organization. “The intent was to make sure that the entire organization was targeting and treating customers in a similar way,” says Francena Gargaro, director, Regional Project Management Group, Americas.

We had to be careful that there wasn’t executive overreaction when something didn’t go as planned. We had to eliminate a culture of blame.

—Neville Jackson

Exel, which operates in 120 countries, had to learn “to act, talk and react in a similar way across geographic boundaries,” Ms. Gargaro says. “We realized that we had to tighten our belts and up our capabilities and proficiencies.” Senior executives first identified the issue as a key strategic initiative and established a three-year timeframe for undergoing change. Executive management then formed teams that identified target areas. The teams, in turn, chose experienced and motivated executives to champion the team's cause and possess total accountability for the group's success.

By demonstrating the value of the initiative through business cases, project status reports and other tools, Exel began to notice important changes. The company's sales grew by 25 percent in 2004 and customer interactions have improved. “By identifying the key baseline processes and expectations and creating a viable framework, we were able to achieve buy-in from the vast majority of employees,” Ms. Gargaro says. “We never encountered major resistance.”

Top Down, Bottom Up

The Department of Education, Science and Training for Australia, which oversees IT projects that total AU$20 million annually, also embraces change. In the past, “IT projects were something that IT people did,” says Neville Jackson, Director of Planning & Governance in the agency's Information Services Group. “Business groups felt no sense of ownership, involvement or control. It was clear that we had to change the mindset and shift roles and responsibilities to achieve maximum business value.”

The Canberra-headquartered agency moved to a top-down, bottom-up approach. The project office established a set of strategic objectives and then created support tools to reinforce the desired actions and behaviors. For example, it introduced hands-on coaching and training, established a commitment to communicate goals and accomplishments, and placed a premium on honesty and disclosure. “People were very nervous at first,” Mr. Jackson says. “We had to be careful that there wasn't executive overreaction when something didn't go as planned. We had to eliminate a culture of blame.”

In addition, the Department of Education, Science and Training had to eliminate complacency and an attitude that general management knowledge is enough to oversee projects. Through formal training and the availability of reporting tools that highlight gains, it is evolving to a culture that's able to plan for change and manage projects more effectively. “Technical delivery people now see themselves as service providers and business units feel as though they have input into key decisions,” Mr. Jackson says.

A Cultural Experience

imgUltimately, it's difficult to rally workers around the concept of a performance-driven culture without a compelling reason or motivation. “A burning platform, mandate or vision must exist and employees must understand it and feel as though it's a worthy goal,” says Barbara Spitzer, a senior consultant at human resources firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide in New York, N.Y., USA. Translating the general concept into practical methodologies is at the heart of the matter. “Achieving cultural alignment requires attention to detail and a commitment to developing highly effective leadership,” she says.

Mr. Crawford believes that end-to-end involvement from management is essential. When an organization has executive sponsorship in place throughout the project life cycle, creates standardized ways to communicate and interact, and ties performance to metrics and key performance indicators (KPI), it can meld a culture that's supportive of change and able to adapt to today's fast-paced business environment. “The end goal is to create a project management culture that delivers corporate strategy through flexibility and repeatable project delivery,” he says. “When all the pieces come together, it's possible to achieve outstanding results.” PM


Samuel Greengard is a Burbank, Calif., USA-based freelance writer who has contributed to American Way, Hemispheres, iQ, Business Finance and Workforce Management.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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