Don't sell it ... show it!
by Neal Whitten, PMP, Contributing Editor
I CONVERSE WITH thousands of people each year. One of the questions most asked by project managers is: “How can I get buy-in for ‘project management best practices’ where I work?”
This standard answer is the wrong answer: “You must sell your ideas to top management. Once they buy-in to your proposal, they will lead the charge for reform. This reform includes directing their staffs to comply. Then the next level of management will direct their staffs to comply, And so on, until ‘the word’ has traveled down to the troops on the front lines and the changes are embraced by all. If they don't support you, then you cannot substantially influence the practices accepted in your projects or across your organization. Therefore, you must keep working to sell the top management”
Don't exhaust yourself in trying to sell top management on project management best practices. The buck ultimately stops with you— not with your management.
In most cases, this approach does not work. In the few instances where this approach does work in driving and institutionalizing project management best practices, it is a welcomed experience. It would be great if this approach worked all the time, but it is wishful thinking.
So, what's the solution? Think, for a moment, as if you were top management. Ask yourself what you would expect of someone who is coming to you for support to solve a problem. What would you expect that person to communicate to you? You would expect to be made to (1) fully understand the problem, (2) fully understand the solution (and that solution will be owned and led by someone other than you), and (3) fully understand precisely what is expected of you—what your role is—to help bring about the solution. These are the issues you address.
Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group (www.nealwhittengroup.com), is a speaker, trainer, consultant and author in project management and employee development. His books include Managing Software Development Projects: Formula for Success and Becoming an Indispensable Employee in a Disposable World. Comments on this column should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have done these things, then you almost always will get the support from top management and from the management below them. However, if, after an earnest attempt, you still are ineffective in selling change to top management—for whatever reason— don't resort to the common behavior of withdrawing, complaining, and whining yourself exhausted. If you behave this way, the problem will now be you! if it wasn't already.
Instead, you should fix the problem as it relates to your domain of responsibility, that is, in those areas that fall within your job assignment. For example, if you are a project manager, it is your job to ensure that project management best practices are defined and enforced on your project—not across your organization that is made up of many projects. Defining project management best practices for your project is not management's responsibility, it is yours (unless they have already been defined and institutionalized in your overall organization).
As a project manager, you have more influence in changing the way your project is planned, tracked, controlled and run day-to-day than anyone in your top management could possibly ever have. Your project will be planned according to how you lead the planning activities. It will be tracked based on your direction of when, where, how, what, and so on.
IF YOU ARE SUCCESSFUL in selling top management on change and in obtaining their support, then that is the most effective method to change the culture of an organization. However, in absence of their full support, you must take the responsibility, accountability and authority to drive the needed change in those areas that define your domain. Don't wait for someone else to do it for you. If everyone focused on solving the major obstacles that prohibit him or her from achieving their commitments, then the entire organization would experience a giant leap forward in improving its performance. Don't become part of the problem. Be part of the solution in those areas that impact your performance and success.
PM Network July 1999