If you can't get their attention, go topless!


by Paul C. Dinsmore, PMP, Contributing Editor

SWINGING AN ORGANIZATION toward enterprise project management requires getting the top dogs to sponsor the movement. If upper management sees the light, then the blessings of managing a company using a projectized philosophy will happen. At least that's the way it's supposed to work.

Although market demands strongly reinforce the idea of organizing companies by projects—also known as enterprise project management, corporate project management, and managing organizations by projects—most company executives aren't actively pursuing this approach, because of either lack of awareness or clashing priorities.

You've tried everything but you still can't get top management buy-in. How can you get management by projects instituted in your organization?

If you're a believer in management by projects and your upper management isn't tuned into the virtues of projectizing the firm right now, what can you do? Say your company is not an organization trendsetter but a follower (one that got into the quality movement in the ’90s as opposed to the ’80s, for instance). And let's say that you, presumably a discreet-yet-forward-looking project manager or professional, are convinced deep in your soul that the road to survival and prosperity for your company is through the practice of management by projects. How do you go about it if you don't have top corporate support? What if you have to go topless in your quest to have project management principles applied on a broad scale in your company? How do you make progress in the practice in spite of no buy-in by upper management?


Paul C. Dinsmore ([email protected]) is a Fellow of PMI and author of seven books, including the AMA Handbook of Project Management (Amacom, NY 1993) and Winning in Business With Enterprise Project Management (Amacom, NY, 1998). He is president of Dinsmore Associates, affiliated with Management Consultants International Group with world headquarters based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Comments on this column should be directed to [email protected]

All Managers, Upper or Middle, are Dumb. Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, sends daily barbs at executives in his comic strip. He theorizes that to instruct someone to write lines of complex computer code and then follow up until it's done doesn't require inordinate intelligence. But to actually write the code requires great brainpower and ability.

Let's say, for argument's sake, that Adams is onto something—that executives don't have it together in many situations. If this premise is true, it should send out warning signals to people in the trenches. “Hmm, if these guys aren't so bright, then we'd better figure out a subtle yet effective way to deal with them,” is a healthy reaction to the realization that upper management is not always ahead of the game.

In fairness to executives, though, think about what these people are faced with: produce goods and services faster, cheaper and better; make the organization leaner (without downsizing themselves); divine what the market will do; and motivate employees like Dilbert. It's not a cheery challenge. Maybe it doesn't require high intelligence in terms of intelligence quotient, but it calls for a high level of some kind of quotient (maybe an EMQ—executive managerial quotient).

Clearly, upper managers have their hands full of ambiguous issues, things that the Dilberts—the intelligent computer code writers—and to some degree the project managers and team members don't need to concern themselves with. The executives might not perceive the needs of those charged with implementing projects, yet they are faced with a battery of prickly matters that divert their attention from various important tasks, including creating an organizationwide support system for ensuring that projects are well managed.

In my October 1996 PM Network column, I laid out an approach for getting upper management's attention, which assumes the existence of some support for a projectizde way of doing things. This approach uses an Executive Session as the basis for gaining resonance from important opinion makers.

The procedure begins by identifying allies—those who believe that boosting project management within the organization is a worthy cause. After pinpointing key stakeholders, potential allies can be cultivated through informal dialogues.

Another step is required to help promote the Executive Session: The word needs to be spread through house organs and internal forums to talk up the topic. Articles and literature can also be used to raise the awareness level of key stakeholders.

Finally, a half-day Executive Session is proposed with a specific objective such as “To promote upper management support toward creating a project management culture within the organization.” Content includes a pre-session questionnaire, facilitation of the session itself based on a detailed plan and post-session debriefings (written and oral).

This Executive Session approach is based on the assumption that there is an opening for upper management support. In this situation, the session acts as a springboard for launching project management across the organization. In many organizations, however, that opening is not there.

So the question remains for middle managers, project managers and team members: How can good project management practice be spread, and how can company opinion makers be influenced to support the cause of implementing enterprise project management, making project management a way for getting things done in the company?

Just Get on With It. The best approach for boosting project management practice in this circumstance is to Just Get On With It! Remember, you don't have to convert the entire organization to make a contribution to the cause. You probably don't depend on upper management to take basic initiatives anyhow.

Stop and think about it. If you make moves toward doing things faster, cheaper and better through project management, is any executive in his or her right mind going to say, “Stop, don't do things more effectively and efficiently!” Not likely. And there are lots of things you can do that don't depend on top management approval. Here are some straightforward things to do on your own:

images Get your PMP®. Become a Project Management Professional certified by the Project Management Institute. If the company will help pick up the tab for your training and testing, great. If not, do it yourself. It will make you more employable within the organization.

images Circulate literature on the subject. Spread the word by sending copies of articles and such to people that need to be influenced. Request books for your company library and see that they circulate.

images Use project management techniques to produce great results on your projects. Make your methodology public. Give presentations, show how project management is useful.

images Benchmark with PMI® colleagues or through other groups. Demonstrate how other companies enhance their performance by using project approaches on multiple projects. Create credibility by citing examples and outside sources.

Still, it takes more than being a lone shining star to get the software, hardware, systems, strategic support and organization interfacing necessary to make multiple project management go smoothly. If you are going “topless”—without upper management support—some basic stakeholder management is needed to clear the paths of resistance. Here are some postures that can help your ideas gain acceptance within the organization:

images Think and speak company as opposed to department or area. Show how your proposals relate to company mission and vision statements

images Respect the time gap for a new idea to mature in an organization. Other people haven't been thinking about the concept as long as you have.

images Accumulate a balance of credits, favors you provide to others. Build alliances with executives and other influential stakeholders by helping them meet their objectives.

images Remember to use different strokes for different stakeholders. People respond to different stimuli.

images If your company is doing the quality thing, tie into the program. Show where the fits are.

images Communicate the benefits of using a projectized approach. Use cost/benefit analyses and bottom-line approaches.

Feather Ruffling. What if you ruffle feathers in the executive crow's nest or with peers? What if they don't understand what you're trying to do? Or if they start stonewalling you? Let's say you need software and training and hardware and organization changes. What do you do when you run into either overt resistance or, worse yet, the abominable “silent sabotage” (nobody says no, but the subject goes nowhere)? These situations call for a series of tactics:

images Back off. If what you are doing isn't producing the right effect, back off and think about it. Have you rushed things? Did you take into account the agenda of all the stakeholders?

images Regroup. Listen to the stakeholders. Find out for sure who your allies are.

images Strategize. Do you need to slowly persist, or rethink the whole approach? Go back and challenge your assumptions for your initial strategy. Are they still valid?

images Think politically. Analyze the forces and interests involved. Is your proposal threatening to anyone? Are there old unsettled issues that might come into play?

images Articulate. Re-approach your cause one stakeholder at a time. Articulate a win-win agreement with each one.

GOING TOPLESS IS as risky for a professional in a project setting as it is for a woman on a beach somewhere. The woman can reduce her risk by making sure she's in the right setting (say, in Europe where toplessness isn't a big deal, or with friends on a beach elsewhere appropriate). By like measure, the project professional, to operate topless, needs to make sure he or she is in the right setting and that surrounding stakeholders are supportive. It's not something to be practiced without some forward thinking.

Getting a management by projects program on the move means taking the initiative, doing things, and at the same time, caring for and nurturing upper management. If upper management sees the light on using an enterprise approach to managing projects, then the program will likely move ahead. When that's not the case, middle management and project personnel are left with the challenge of doing something outside the comfort zone.

If that's your situation, what the heck … Go topless! images

PM Network June 1999