Consulting focused PPP's lead the way

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Abstract

The role of a consulting focused project, program, portfolio (PPP) professional has been on the cutting edge of complex change in recent years. With the current global environment of increasing complexity and accelerated pace of change, consulting skills are needed more than ever. However, it is no longer enough to design, recommend and withdraw using a traditional consultancy process when organizations are crying out for sustainable results and change that is fully embedded. It is the consulting focused PPP professional that will lead the way in navigating this need with a combination of high technical skills and high relational skills.

Helen Telford is President for PMINZ and a consulting focused PPP professional working in Asia Pacific. She specializes in complex change, applying a rare mix of business skills and abilities in managing relationships. In this presentation, Helen describes a practical approach to managing environments and relationships illustrated by case studies from the New Zealand and Australian health sector. Hear how to make sense of chaotic relationships using a simple framework to understand what is driving behaviors. Learn techniques to engage polarized stakeholders and to focus groups on outcomes in complex situations. Understand how to assess the situation accurately and design tailored processes to implement action. Become more strategic as you work with sponsors/clients to re-shape requirements and influence expectations. Focus on action using simple tools and accountability checkpoints to embed change.

These skills have increasing relevance to the profession of project management, as new ways of working become the path to future success. As a PPP professional, you will leave this session with new strategies to help you solve problems in your work and achieve the needed results for your organization.

Presentation goal

Participants of this workshop will be equipped to try new strategies that will achieve success in complex environments.

Learning objectives

Participants of this workshop will:

  • Recognize the complexity of the environment they work in and understand the different leadership skills required to manage simple, complicated, complex and chaotic environments.
  • Consider the value of consulting focused PPP skills in increasing organizational agility and know when to seek assistance from others with this skill set.
  • Apply a number of key strategies to manage complex environments and complex relationships in their own work.
  • Take risks and experiment with new ideas in problem solving where this supports success.

Interactivity

Please note that this presentation is highly interactive and requires audience participation using case studies to promote discussion and matrix/continuum exercises. In these exercises, the participants opinion on given questions is described by moving to different parts of the room in keeping with their position on the matrix or continuum supplied with the question. From this physical position they will then describe why they have taken a particular view. This gives participants opportunity to visually compare and contrast their own view with others and to clarify their own position and learn from each other. The case studies are short, varied and focused on the issue that was being solved through an emergent exploration of a potential solution.

Our environment is changing and complexity is increasing

The role of a consulting focused project, program, portfolio (PPP) professional has been on the cutting edge of complex change in recent years. With the current global environment of increasing complexity and accelerated pace of change, consulting skills are needed more than ever. However, it is no longer enough to design, recommend and withdraw using a traditional consultancy process when organizations are crying out for sustainable results and change that is fully embedded. It is the consulting focused PPP professional that will lead the way in navigating this need with a combination of high technical skills and high relational skills.

The global environment is changing according to Dr. Harold Kerzner (2007) who says there is an increase in the following aspects of managing projects:

  • We are managing our business by projects
  • Projects must realize business objectives
  • Increase in global businesses and virtual teams
  • Emphasis on sponsorship of projects
  • Project managers' influence by interpersonal skills
  • Project failures are caused by behavior.

Complexity is also increasing and this is especially true of health and social services sector. The 2011 KPMG report on P3M capabilities in government states, “Projects in New Zealand Government and other jurisdictions are subject to growing complexity and increasing risk of failure”. I am seeing more national health programs failing to meet business intent than ever before as they struggle with this rising complexity.

PMI's 2013 Pulse of the Profession™ In Depth Report: Navigating Complexity displays the most defining characteristics of complexity in projects as follows:

  • Multiple stakeholders – 57%
  • Ambiguity of project features, resources, phases, etc. – 48%
  • Significant political/authority influences – 35%
  • Unknown project features, resources, phases, etc. – 33%
  • Dynamic (changing) project governance – 29%
  • Significant external influences – 28%
  • Use of a technology that is new to the organization – 26%
  • Use of a technology that has not yet been fully developed – 25%
  • Significant internal interpersonal or social influences – 23%
  • Highly regulated environment – 18%
  • Project duration exceeds the cycle of relevant technologies – 10%.

Not only is complexity increasing in a changing environment but also we are short of the skills needed to manage. There is both a labor shortage and a talent gap according to PMI's 2013 Pulse of the Profession™ InDepth Report: Talent Management. This report describes human capital as the number one challenge globally with 90% of organizations reporting that technical skills are hardest to find but easiest to teach and 66% saying that leadership skills are not as easy to teach but most important for project success.

Making sense of complex environments and a leaders response

The Cynefin framework by David Snowden and Mary Boone (2007) is one way to look at organizations and complexity. It is a simple framework that can assist in understating what is needed to lead effectively in complex environments.

The framework divides environments into four domains:

  • Simple – Cause and effect are evident, repeatable and predictable. We know what it takes to do the job.
  • Complicated – Cause and effect are discoverable, fact based. We know there are some things we don't know.
  • Complex – Cause and effect are unpredictable with competing ideas. We don't know the things we don't know.
  • Chaos – No cause and effect is perceivable, turbulence, tension, and no time. Hard to know what to do.

Each domain requires a different skill set:

  • Simple – Standard processes, review cycles and clear measures
  • Complicated – Analytical techniques to determine facts and option range
  • Complex – Multiple small and diverse interventions to create options
  • Chaos – Single or multi-actions to stabilize situations.

Taking a closer look at the complex domain, we can understand why things happen in retrospect. Emergence is needed as the leader experiments in ways that are safe to fail. The leader must allow the path to reveal itself rather than impose a course of action. They need to probe first, then sense, and then respond. Leaders can do this by creating environments and experiments that allow patterns to emerge, by increasing interaction and communication, and using methods that help generate ideas.

What we can learn from the consulting focused PPP professional

PPP professionals with modern consulting skills have much to offer in complex environments. Consulting, as a skill set, requires a leader to be experiential in the tools, techniques and processes applied to their work. Each client is different and being successful while moving rapidly from one environment to the next develops an adaptive attitude.

Earlier this year on projectmanagement.com there was some discussion on the role of the consulting PPP. On project managers working on customer facing projects Andy Jordon says, “They manage every project as if it is a cookie-cutter copy of the one that they have just finished, and sometimes (too often) treat the client team as a group that doesn't understand what is needed.” “A project manager who takes the time to understand the concerns of the client and makes an effort to resolve those concerns in a collaborative fashion will stand a much better chance of delivering a successful initiative.”

The consultant must produce a lasting result or will be unlikely to achieve repeat work with that client; however, is not always there to see the end result. Kenneth Darter says, “Being a consultant is not always easy. It often means doing all the work and then moving on without getting to see all the fruits of your labor.”

Independence isoften an underlying reason for calling on a consultant and this can be difficult. Joe Wynne says, “When you are a consultant, you enter new to the organization, the culture, the team. You are an outsider. People you work with may not immediately trust you. Some may already assume the worst about you or your firm without having any supporting facts.” She advises, “Ask around to get an accurate picture of what is going on. There may be much more than has been immediately obvious to you in your position.”

This independent view can help the consultant to shape customer/sponsor expectations and guide them to processes that will be more successful; this requires honest exploration of the issues and truthful feedback even when this is unpopular. Michelle Stronach says that to be a successful consultant, “…every interaction you have with your customer contributes to their customer experience that defines their perception of you.” She advises, “Let your professional values guide you. Be accountable to your mistakes and apologies when needed. Help your customer understand your processes and reasoning behind recommendations and deliverables.”

Kenneth Darter describes the benefit of keeping distance as a consultant, “Oftentimes, the entire reason for hiring a consultant to work on a project or with a project team is that there is a need for some separation between the job role and the client. Perhaps the client needs the consultant to perform some task that the client cannot do, such as facilitate change or start a project that is having trouble getting off the ground.” The impartiality of the process lead by an independent consultant can certainly increase stakeholder's confidence in the process and their engagement in the change.

In addition, it is sometimes the time and focus of a consultant that will make a difference to the success of a new initiative. Michael Wood says, “Project management consultants can fit the bill better than internal project managers as they are free from the day-to-day administrative and other organizational distractions that internal project managers encounter”.

Summary

Our environment is changing and becoming more complex. Consulting skills have increasing relevance to the profession of project management as new ways of working become the path to organizational agility in a changing environment. PPP professionals can become more emergent and try new strategies to solve problems in complex work environments. In this way, they will support the sustainability of their organization into the future by achieving the needed results.

References

Darter, K. (2014, June 2). Keeping your distance as a consultant. Retrieved from www.projectmanagement.com

Darter, K. (2014, June 16). The myths of consulting. Retrieved from www.projectmanagement.com

Jordan, A. (2014, June 16). External pressures. Retrived from www.projectmanagement.com

Kerzner, H. (2013). The future of project management. Project Management International Institute for Learning.

KPMG. (2011). Portfolio, programme and project management (P3M) capabilities in government.

Project Management Institute. (2013). Pulse of the Profession™ In Depth Report: Navigating complexity. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Project Management Institute. (2013). Pulse of the Profession™ In Depth Report: Talent management. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Snowden, D., Boone, M. (2007). A leader's framework for decision making. Harvard Business Review,

Stronach, M. (2014, June 23). Three essentials to being a successful consultant PM Retrieved from www.projectmanagement.com

Wood, M. (2014, June 2). The consultant vs. in-house PM. Retrieved from www.projectmanagement.com

Wynne, J. (2014, June 25). Four steps to solving problems…Despite being an outsider. Retreived from www.projectmanagement.com

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 or any listed author.

© 2014, Helen Telford
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA

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