Survive and Thrive
A Company Reorganization Can Be Nerve-Wracking, but Those Who Stay the Course Can Find New Opportunities Instead of Chaos
BY KAREN J. BANNAN
A CORPORATE SHAKE-UP
can unnerve even the most seasoned project manager. As the dust clears, you don't know whether you will still have a job, let alone whether project management will still be part of the organization's framework. Yet change also can provide an opportunity to advance, not just your own career, but project management within the organization.
Over the course of a career that has spanned more than 30 years, Andrej Kerin has survived several reorganizations—including one at his current employer that merged numerous smaller companies and two similar contractor companies. Although there's no one-size-fits-all answer to a corporate restructuring, individuals who can play up their strengths and are willing to put in the effort to champion project management can come out ahead even when things look dire, says Mr. Kerin, director of quality with Ljubljana, Slovenia-based construction firm SCT.
“Changes are key factors of the modern world, and it is always better to anticipate the changes [than] to be driven by changes from outside the company or outside the project,” he says. “It is better to have an active role in changes and to promote them as means of success.”
To survive and capitalize on change, you'll have to rely on a project management mainstay: planning.
Project managers can gain a stronger foothold in an organization by being proactive, says Hal Macomber, co-owner of Lean Project Consulting Inc., Andover, Mass., USA. It might seem daunting, but approach new executives with an agenda for improvement, and they will see you as a leader for that change, he says. Suggest and explain how even a reorganization process can benefit from using a project-based approach, and you will ensure established best practices and project management processes are not overlooked.
“Reorganizations are a perfect time for someone who is a really good project manager to move ahead, because someone who takes initiative is someone that an [executive] really wants on their team,” Mr. Macomber says. “Every executive would love someone to show up and say, ‘Hello, I'd like to help you.’”
Of course, you must arm yourself with specific facts to aid your case. For instance, you can't offer to facilitate change unless you know about a company's—and its new executives'—long-term goals and challenges. That said, you can do reconnaissance before you meet with executives. If you work for a public company, acquisition documentation will include many of the details you need. If your company is privately held, be prepared to ask well-informed questions or you may end up doing more harm than good by presenting an inadequate plan of action. At the very least, try to get an idea of what the new team wants to accomplish so you can do preliminary risk assessment before presenting yourself as a potential project manager.
By gaining an executive's trust, not only do you stand in a good position to be tapped to help lead future changes, you also have a chance to demonstrate the value of a project-based work style, says Matt Klein, ultrasound engineer for Siemens Medical Solutions USA, Malverne, Pa., USA. “The project manager can really show off the value of project management by tracking the reorganization and helping with it,” he says. “In this way, the executive team can realize by experience the wonderful things that project management can accomplish, and how a great project manager can become much more than just a process tracker, but also a leader of change and continuous business improvements. Once the project manager has helped accomplish the reorganization, the project management group should be in a strong position to be a mainstream and indispensable part of the new culture.”
As you seek to prove your worth in the midst of enterprise-wide change, don't forget those who benefit from project management the most: your stakeholders. This group could change significantly in a corporate reorganization, so take stock frequently in order to keep your efforts targeted and up-to-date.
When asserting your capability by proposing an initiative or process to streamline reorganization, “bring your suggestion directly to the top stakeholder, who can then communicate with other managers about the importance of what they will be learning,” says Alan Harpham, chairman of The APM Group, a project management certification and accreditation organization in High Wycombe, U.K. A great way to get new stakeholders to look at project management—and you, the expert—in a positive light, he says, is a one- or several-day external training course taught by project managers who have sat on both sides of the desk.
Because a structured project management process helps ferret out lackluster employees while rewarding those who excel—something every new executive or manager struggles with—project managers can build a case around accountability, says Alan Harpham, chairman of The APM Group, a global project management certification and accreditation organization in High Wycombe, U.K. “I can think of some organizations where everyone who went into the project got sacked [because of cost and time overages],” he says. “But there are other organizations [where] project and program managers have been hugely rewarded due to the success of their projects. It starts to send a message: Do good work and reap the benefits.”
WHENEVER YOU'RE WORKING IN THE HOPES OF CHANGING HEARTS AND MINDS—AND THAT'S WHAT YOU'LL BE DOING—IT WORKS BEST WHEN THE PERSON OR PEOPLE AT THE TOP SAY, ‘THIS ISN'T WORKING.’
—ALAN HARPHAM, THE APM GROUP, HIGH WYCOMBE, U.K.
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
If project management is already embedded in the organization, advancement for its proponents often is easier during change. To prepare the way for an upward move, project managers should lead their teams to make project management a significant profit driver in the company. And that, Mr. Harpham says, is something that takes months, if not years, to accomplish.
As a first step, get all stakeholders, including upper management, to recognize what hasn't worked in the past and how different things can be once project management is implemented. To demonstrate keen judgment, evaluate past failures in terms of how project management could have solved problems, then present that information to executives. Doing so will form a correlation between project management and good business—and will offer proof of your insight, which will lead them to support your move to positions of greater authority in the future.
“Whenever you're working in the hopes of changing hearts and minds—and that's what you'll be doing—it works best when the person or people at the top say, ‘This isn't working,’” Mr. Harpham says. “Then you have the person at the top pushing open doors for you.”
For example, recent changes at Sensient Colors Inc., a division of Sensient Technologies Corp., a global manufacturer and marketer of colors, flavors and fragrances in St. Louis, Mo., USA, helped business systems analyst Mark Schulte Jr. get a leg up. The company had just gone through a period where there was no acting president, followed by two successive presidents who each tried to implement a customer relationship management (CRM) system without the benefits of a defined project management structure. “Speed was more important than project management,” Mr. Schulte explains. “Every day we would hear, ‘When will we be live?’ In my mind, I knew we had plenty of planning to do.” Unfortunately, his position didn't allow him to give his input to either president.
Finally, Sensient hired a new IT director who took the project in hand, and decided it was time to map out the requirements and implement standard processes. Under the new IT director, who was familiar with and welcoming toward project management, Mr. Schulte communicated that he was eager to establish formalized processes. As a result, he was given the responsibility of managing the new CRM project from start to finish. “I had a team of about 10 to 12 people who were testing and giving me reports,” he says. “In turn, I updated management and other team members. Being able to keep everyone on the same page was wonderful.” Mr. Schulte is working to advance himself and build professional credibility still further, by working toward the Project Management Professional (PMP®) credential.
Don't expect to win the unconditional approval of executives instantly, especially in the middle of corporate upheaval. Remember that they have the concerns of the entire enterprise on their minds. Even after you've initially made yourself available as a process expert, there are some steps you can take to help your cause as a reorganization takes place.
In order to stand out as someone who has the company's best interests in mind, find or design programs to teach upper-level managers the value of sponsoring a project and what the process should entail. If you find an appropriate course, encourage upper-level managers to take it by stressing the cost savings and potential bottom-line increases if effective patterns are established at the start of a reorganization.
However, it's not uncommon for executives to be reticent about taking “official” project management-related classes or seminars. In that case, project managers must act as teachers, starting their executives' education process by changing the way they look at doing business, says Ali Jaafari, Ph.D., president of Asia Pacific International College in North Sydney, Australia.
“[Executives] are always interested in resource efficiency and customer satisfaction—anything that improves the bottom line,” says Dr. Jaafari, who recently introduced a graduate project management program at his college. “We, as project managers, have to think about talking not of project management but of showing examples of how organizations can cut time or cost by 30 or 40 percent by using project-based management.”
Dr. Jaafari has done just that when he's come up against project management-related apathy or, even worse, negativity—problems you could face from new executives who are unfamiliar with your role. In such instances, he presents a business case, complete with ROI data. “I wanted to introduce a graduate program in project management, but some of my esteemed colleagues weren't sure that project management deserved its own course program,” he says. “I had to start with a proposal, a business case that showed how I would manage risk, and how such a program would boost the university's standing as an institution with vision.” The proposal started with an overview of student demand and interest. The overview won Dr. Jaafari the approval and sponsorship of university officials at every level.
Successfully leading your team through change and advancing yourself in the process is possible, Dr. Jaafari says, but it can take persistence and finesse. “There's no such thing as a magic pill that everyone can swallow,” he says. “While in a state of transition, one has to go through a lot of learning and feedback. Eventually, you get there, but people have to be convinced, carried and shown the way.”
Change is always hard, but Deanna Wise has figured out a way to make it a little easier for Phoenix, Ariz., USA-based Abrazo Health Care. In the 18 months since she took her post as CIO, she has implemented a formal communication process, which goes out to anyone a project touches and is designed to take the guesswork out of new initiatives. Her agility in coming up with solutions tailored to the specific problems at hand has boosted morale and saved the company money.
SPOTLIGHT: DEANNA WISE
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