Lessons for cultural change


Lessons for Cultural Change

by Marsha Kessler

A steady stream of new products has become essential to business success. For Polaroid, this has required a major shift to introduce significantly more products per year than just a few years ago. This has been challenging, as our culture has valued “work” over “planning.” A business improvement effort a few years ago cited lack of project management as a key barrier to success. A subsequent initiative to institutionalize project management utilized widespread training in complex project management tools and marathon planning sessions. Detailed activity identification did not drive program success, and people became frustrated.

For the past year and a half, a hands-on approach focused on fundamentals has changed the environment and created a pull for project management. Our Center of Excellence (COE) for Project Management was created with a mission that emphasized new product delivery (NPD) success as the goal and it has provided direct project management support via our project managers. Program managers now demand project management support as projects begin. This enables us to focus on increasing process maturity to improve results rather than begging teams to give it a try. Here's how we are doing it and some generic lessons for creating a culture that embraces project management.

Leverage project management skills and practice to optimize Polaroid's new product delivery success from concept through commercialization. Project Management as an ENABLER of NPD success.

To create real change we had to add value. It would not improve our business to adopt best practices that project teams would not accept. The COE began and remains dedicated to working directly with NPD projects to impact their success.


The COE is resource-based and directly integrated into key NPD programs through our project managers. We are a small team with a modest budget and report to the business unit. The organizational structure has many benefits, including the ability to directly impact actual programs, to learn from programs as they are happening, to develop practices that address current issues, and to gain credibility within the organization. However, it requires solid support from senior management, which we have.

The COE is part of the program office, which manages all of our business processes. The new product development process and resource management are just two of the functions managed by the program office. The overall NPD process is fairly mature and includes a well-developed management review process. Increased maturity in each area complements the others.


If there is one word that describes our strategy it is focus. The approach has been to start small with initiatives that have real impact, learn from these initiatives, iterate quickly, and communicate. Small successes have formed the basis for larger successes. Exhibit 1 shows the four elements of our overall strategy: Programs, People, Processes, and Improvement. In 2000 we focused on succeeding in key programs, developing a core team of people, and creating a solid foundation. This approach was highly successful in quickly changing our culture to begin to embrace project management. In 2001, incremental strategies will broaden and deepen gains. Below is a description of each of the four strategy elements.

Marsha Kessler is manager of the Center of Excellence for Project Management at Polaroid Corp., and is a vice chair of PMI's New Product Development Specific Interest Group (SIG).

Within each of the four elements of COE strategy we focus on specific goals to drive business results. As maturity increases, we expand the goals to deepen and broaden gains

Exhibit 1. Within each of the four elements of COE strategy we focus on specific goals to drive business results. As maturity increases, we expand the goals to deepen and broaden gains.

A focus on fundamentals has had an immediate impact and laid the foundation for increased maturity. In 2000, instead of tackling the whole PMBOK® Guide, we focused on the elements of scope, schedule, and “drumbeat” to provide a strong foundation for good project management

Exhibit 2. A focus on fundamentals has had an immediate impact and laid the foundation for increased maturity. In 2000, instead of tackling the whole PMBOK® Guide, we focused on the elements of scope, schedule, and “drumbeat” to provide a strong foundation for good project management.

Programs. Early success is essential to gaining credibility and momentum. Initially we supported a few teams with our COE team members leading the project management effort. As demand grew, we had to be creative to keep the momentum going without over-loading our project managers and jeopardizing their ability to succeed. We began “adopting” team members from different functional groups and training them to serve in a project management role on their projects. As our project managers have gained experience they support more projects, but there are still more projects than we can support through either of these two approaches. In 2001 we are expanding into smaller projects by utilizing our experienced project managers to “coach” teams. Coaching can include sharing practices; learning about the project and making recommendations; and providing advice, mentorship, temporary assistance, and ongoing communication. We expect this will be an effective way to broaden our impact within the constraints of our resources.

People. You can't do it without the people, and everybody needs to know something. Joan Knutson's model of matching “competency required” (on a 5-level scale of awareness, understanding, skill, competency, and mastery) to “role” has been invaluable in determining who needs to know what and how to get there.

Our initial emphasis was on the new project managers. They came from a variety of disciplines and were not formally schooled in project management. The most critical skills they brought were communication, facilitation, ability to see the whole picture, tenacity, flexibility, and a belief in the value of project management. With these skills we could teach the tools and methodologies of project management to get results. We utilized a few senior project managers to help set strategy and train the new project managers. Good, experienced, PMP®-certified project managers who work well with others are invaluable to the organization. Mentorship has been a critical element of success, and, as individuals move toward competency, they take on more of a teaching role within the organization. I can't say enough about this team. They were willing to take on this critical role back when many thought that project management was merely an administrative function. Their willingness to be pioneers in this process has been gratifying.

In 2001, we will utilize our growing knowledge base to improve awareness and understanding throughout the organization. We will also move project managers toward competency and mastery. This will deepen the cultural shift that we have begun.

Process. A focus on fundamentals has had an immediate impact and has laid the foundation for increased maturity. In 2000, instead of tackling the whole PMBOK® Guide, we focused on three elements to provide a strong foundation for good project management: scope, schedule, and “drumbeat,” as illustrated in Exhibit 2. (The fourth strategy element, Improvement, will explain how we came to choose these three areas.) Here is how we have explained them to the rest of the organization.

Good project management is dynamic. It integrates all of the critical elements necessary to drive the program through to successful commercialization. It helps to test assumptions, set strategy, improve communication and alignment, evaluate risks, and drive decision-making, while keeping the focus on delivering to the scope. Dynamic project management increases speed and drives programs toward successful delivery. Exhibit 2 explains how these elements help drive the right action. Scope keeps teams on track. A good or “dynamic” schedule does not need to be detailed, but it must integrate all key functions to drive the program through to commercialization. It must be kept current, and although it does not need to be perfect, it must be a believable model for the future. The schedule can be used strategically and to keep the program on track by proactively and reactively using it to drive weekly drumbeat sessions. We have recently brought in milestone reports to drive analytical discussions at a higher level. In 2001, we are emphasizing additional PMBOK® Guide areas and adding more standardized best practices to our toolbox.

Improvement. Continuous learning and improvement is essential to success. We learn a great deal from each project, as well as from the project managers, program managers, teams, and others who touch our organization. In addition, I have been impressed with the project management community and its willingness to share. We have benefited from the insight and wisdom of many project management professionals. Our fourth strategy element is to take this knowledge, from both internal and external sources, and use it to improve what we are doing. Obviously, each organization is unique and has its own gaps. The three foundation elements that we used might not be the right ones for another organization, but by utilizing multiple sources and applying the intelligent solution one can minimize resources and maximize impact.

To arrive at the three foundation elements of scope, schedule, and drumbeat, we conducted a formal study of successful internal projects, observed projects that were struggling, interviewed our project managers, and tested the hypothesis with external contacts. Initially we spent far more time listening than teaching. Although a formal baseline would have been a wonderful luxury, the information we gleaned from the above methods made it painfully obvious where we needed to begin. Quantitative metrics will become more important as we move forward.

WHAT ARE THE LESSONS FOR CULTURAL CHANGE? Focused improvements yield fast results. To create a project management-oriented culture, begin by focusing on elements and projects that will have a major impact on the business. Be sure goals are linked to business needs and aligned with corporate strategies. Start small, learn, and iterate. Create success early and use it to gain momentum. Utilize mentorship and direct involvement to maximize impact. A resource-based COE can be an effective way to do this. images


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PM Network May 2001



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