Three years ago, I worked on a project that involved planning, developing and implementing two learning and development modules for the City’s new HR/financial system. The two modules supported competency management (tracking learning initiatives) and performance management (tracking performance reviews, gap analysis, succession planning) for the organization. Stakeholders consisted of management, human resources and specific users who held permission to access the modules. The project team consisted of a Business Analyst, HR Associate and myself as the Learning Officer. The first step involved learning how to use the new software/modules.  Once we had a general understanding of the software, we created a project plan.  The project plan stated high-level goals of the project, deliverables and timelines. Due to lack of planning and inexperience, the project encountered several barriers along the way.

We began the project with training on the competency and performance software.  Our first barrier involved a lack of understanding the new software, specifically, how one field linked to another field. Due to our lack of knowledge, we tried to recreate reports that existed in the former HR system. We were not prepared to think outside of the box.  We wanted to keep everything status quo. We followed a linear route looking for what we already knew rather than looking for new innovative reporting opportunities.  According to Heifetz, (as cited in Conway, Masters and Thorold, 2017), this is an example of how, the problem was clear but the solution was unclear. The problem required some type of learning which included developing a technical fix (the innovation).  In this example, in order to produce the innovative results all parties need to share in the decision-making process (p. 16).  Due to a lack of knowledge about the two modules and the functionality of the fields, we focused on recreating existing reports rather than looking at the opportunities available for new innovative reports.  In retrospect, we were afraid to vary from what we knew and what we felt safe creating as a high level of uncertainty existed in the project. Choosing to take the linear route only caused long term challenges which made reporting more difficult.  After having worked on this project, I believe in ‘only’ thinking outside the box and looking at all possible variables rather than trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

Uncertainty in projects “does not allow for a one size fits all approach” (Mahmoud-Jouini, Midler, Silberzah, 2016, p. 144).  As soon as we had some understanding of the software, we attempted to create a project plan.  Unfortunately, the project plan was not accurate for the duration of the project as the project continued to evolve and change depending upon the information found in analyzing the software. At that point in time, we had to commit to a project plan.   Loch and Lenfle (as cited in Mahmout-Jouini, et. al., 2016) proposed that projects that have high uncertainty, are usually exploration projects, which can also be defined as projects that create knowledge. The competency and performance modules in the City’s HR/financial system changed the method we used to track learning events for employees thus creating a learning curve to increase knowledge about the software.  In projects that involve exploring information, it is important to provide the time to allow requirements and specifications to emerge during the life of the project through learning and trial and error (Mahmout-Jouini, 2016).  Going forward, I believe there is value in creating a project plan that is reviewed and updated on a regular basis until the knowledge is obtained to clearly define the scope of the project.

This project taught me to be the voice of reason, together with ensuring my decisions regarding the project are transparent to stakeholders so that they understand my thinking.  I now think outside of the box and colour outside of the lines.  I share with others that there are different sizes of projects and project plans depending upon the circumstances.  One size does not work when change is the only constant.

 

References

Conway, R., Masters, J., & Thorold, J., (2017). From design thinking to systems change: How to invest in innovation for social impact. Royal Society of Arts, Action and Research Centre.

Ben, M., Midler, C., & Silberzahn, P. (2016). Contributions of design thinking to project management in an innovation context. Project Management Journal, 47(2), 144-156. doi:10.1002/pmj.21577