Project Management Institute

Socking project management to your organization

first, you've got to get their attention

Up & Down the Organization


by Paul C. Dinsmore, PMP, Contributing Editor

Now, we're not saying the members of your organization have any personality characteristics in common with the lowly mule, but sometimes it takes more than a mere “giddyup” to get a company moving in the right direction.

TEXAS LORE HAS IT that a Lubbock farmer bought a shiny new red tractor and subsequently sold his powerful-yet-ornery mule to the neighboring farmer who specifically asked for a beast that was “tame and easy to deal with.” The next day the neighbor complained that the mule ignored him completely. “Oh, that's easy to fix,” said the mule's previous owner, as he picked up a two-by-four and whacked the animal across the head. The mule became attentive and responded immediately to all commands. “But I don't understand,” said the disturbed neighbor, “if he's easy to deal with, why do you have to sock him with a two-by-four?” “Well,” retorted the seller, “he is tame and easy all right, but first you have to get his attention!”

So much for mules’ attention spans. What about people? How do you get folks’ attention at all levels about the need for a project management culture in organizations where time, cost, and quality are critical factors? How do you get people to buy into the “faster, cheaper, better” policy that NASA Administrator Dan Goldin announced as the secret behind the success of the mission that put the tiny Sojourner to wheeling about on Mars? How do you get people's attention?

In today's participative cultures, the “two-by-four” power approach used by the Lubbock farmer is not only politically incorrect, but ineffective. (Even back in heavy hierarchy days, it's questionable if top-down authoritarian postures really got the job done.) Something much nobler is called for in work groups that have long since quantum-leaped to another level of awareness.

But even the “more aware” sometimes need a wake-up call. If faster-cheaper-better are valid modern buzzwords, and time-cost-quality have always been the scripture of project management, the benefit of injecting more project management into organizations becomes strikingly clear. Yet even organizations that traditionally use project management techniques need to ask themselves, “Are we taking full advantage of project managment and are we using it synergetically across the organization? Can we get more mileage out of something we already know is good?”


So How Do You Get People's Attention? First somebody has to tune into the fact that opportunity is pounding at the door: opportunity to spread the faster-cheaper-better logo across the organization, along with the tools to make it happen. That somebody could be upper management, middle management or an organizational change agent or internal facilitatior. No matter who it may be, the procedure for getting people to sign on is much the same. Since participation is needed for anything to work, a number of articulated moves need to be made to inject the spirit of project management across the company. Here's a pathway:

Identify allies. See who else believes that boosting project management within the organization is a worthy cause. Pinpoint key stakeholders that need to be on the bandwagon. Initiate informal chats and gather some ideas as to how to go about getting others to sign on.

Spread the word. Use house organs and internal forums to talk up the topic. Use every opportunity to raise the subject. Distribute to key stakeholders articles and literature you think will raise the awareness level.

Plan an Executive Session (half-day). Set an objective for the Executive Session. Something like: “To promote upper-management support for creating a project management culture within the organization.” Write two to three pages summarizing the information needed to promote an Executive Session: things like background, goals, scope, participants, form of facilitation, etc. Content should include pre-work, facilitation of the session itself and post-session debriefings (see sidebar for details).

Articulate the Executive Session. Someone needs to orchestrate the Executive Session. Options are internal facilitators, an experienced change agent from another area of the company, a local university professor, or an outside agent you have worked with and trust. The facilitator should be involved not only in conducting the session itself, but also in the pre-work design, development of the event, and the post-session debriefings.

Follow up and keep on pushing. Once the session has taken place, someone needs to keep the ball rolling. Conclusions from the Executive Session may need to be nurtured and monitored. A follow-up visit by the facilitator may be in order as well to address the question of “What do we do now?”

Follow through with the basics. A road map for putting into place an across-the-board project management culture within an organization was included in a previous Up & Down column (“Toward Corporate Project Management: Beefing Up the Bottom Line With MOBP,” PM Network, June 1996). That included phases involving a comprehensive survey and needs assessment, design of the steps required for the new project management culture, and implementation requiring training programs including executive briefings, basics seminars, specialty seminars, PMP certification courses (if desired), and on-the-job consultation.

The Executive Session, Step-by Step

Once you've rounded up some allies and are spreading the word by distributing literature on the topic to key players, there are concrete steps that need to be taken to get the program moving. Here are some of the items that need to be prepared:

A pre-session questionnaire to be filled out before the Executive Session. The questionnaire should be custom-tailored and include questions of the following types:

image On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your business unit's capabilities in the following areas of project management: Project Time Management, Project Cost Management, Project Quality Management, Project Scope Management, Project Communications Management, Project Procurement Management, Project Human Resources Management, Project Risk Management, Project Integration Management.

image List the three major difficulties encountered in managing projects in your business unit.

image What are three strong points in the present way of managing the business unit's projects?

image Why bother improving the organization's project management culture?

image What would be the benefits?

A pre-session interview script. Five executives should be interviewed individually (interviews should be no more than 50 minutes in length). The open-agenda interviews should touch on the following topics: the interviewee's project management experience, how he or she views colleagues’ project management experience, major problems in managing projects successfully within the business unit, comments and suggestions.

The Executive Session plan. This includes an opening (why are we here, what are we going to do, how are we going to do it?), a joint review of consolidated questionnaire results, comments on readings, and group discussion aimed at creating consensus on the need for improved project management.

The group will also be asked to brainstorm and discuss the enablers and inhibitors for establishing project management as a part of the culture. The four-hour session will wrap up around a discussion of “ideas, suggestions and possible next steps.”

Wrapping Up. Getting people's attention is the first hurdle to overcome when there is an objective to incorporate a project management culture into an organization. Whether the organization is new to the project management concept or is simply underusing the tools and techniques available, a specific initiative is called for to get the ball rolling in the direction of a project management culture.

AS OPPOSED TO the technique used on the Lubbock mule, attention-getting for potential converts or enthusiasts in project management calls for much more subtle approaches. It takes things like finding allies, spreading the word, and working out some plans. But it also requires staging an event—a happening of sorts—to shine limelight on the topic and let the idea seep into the pores of the key stakeholders. ■

Paul C. Dinsmore, PMI Fellow, is the author of six books, including The AMA Handbook of Project Management (Amacom, NY, 1993). He is president of Dinsmore Associates, affiliated with Management Consultants International Group with world headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (fax 011 5521 252 1200, or e-mail

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.

PM Network • October 1997



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