Our world is complex and ever-changing. As a result, organizations must continually adapt, including their project managers who must remain knowledgeable of current project management research and skilled in effectively applying it to their organization and industry’s contexts.
I was recently involved in a project to shift a course’s formative testing from paper-based to online. This was a critical change because the final exam was administered online but students did not receive online testing practice throughout the course. The paper-based tests mirrored the test format of the final exam, but students were missing the online experience. Changing to online formative tests would allow students to feel more comfortable completing the online final exam and their grade would be more likely to reflect their content knowledge rather than their comfort level with the technology.
Unfortunately, if there were project and change management plans, they were not communicated to the teachers who were expected to administer the online tests. Training was rushed and IT support was minimal. At some campuses, the available technology was insufficient to administer the online tests.
There were multiple barriers to change in this project. The primary barrier was a lack of communication: both between management and teachers and among the teachers themselves. Another barrier was a lack of teacher buy-in and involvement. This reflects a lack of “organizational readiness” (Weiner, 2009). People are often resistant to change, even positive change, partly because it requires time and energy to learn something new. Teachers are no exception. They are often stretched to the limits with minimal time to complete their heavy workloads. It takes consistent and open communication from management, an important gesture of respect for others, to generate buy-in and support.
The technological insufficiencies were a significant physical barrier. Although organizational readiness focuses on organizations’ psychological readiness for change, a change management plan that considered organizational readiness would have revealed that the teachers did not feel comfortable administering the formative online tests. Further analysis, perhaps with the “5 Whys” (Crowe, 2015) of project management, would have revealed the need for teacher training and updated hardware to ensure teachers had the skills and comfort level for organizational readiness.
Theories and models of project and change management are certainly helpful. However, across a broad range of organizations and industries, most projects fail completely or are challenged as that they are late, over-budget, and/or missing some required functions or features (Watt, 2014, Figure 2.1). Do projects fail because management models are not used, as appears to be the case in my example? Or do projects fail because the models are applied incorrectly or insufficiently? Or do project managers attempt to use them but they do not transfer to today’s fast-paced, uncertain, complex world? I believe all three cases exist. The world is increasingly complex, and organizations are continually adjusting to change as technologies advance, and people and societies’ needs and wants change. Project managers must understand both current research and their organization and industry’s unique context. Most importantly, they must be skilled at effectively integrating that knowledge for their projects to have the greatest chance of success.
Crowe, A. (2015, January 22). Using the 5 whys in project management [Blog post]. Liquid Planner. Retrieved from https://www.liquidplanner.com/blog/using-5-whys-project-management/
Conway, R., Masters, J., & Thorold, J. (2017). From design thinking to systems change: How to invest in innovation for social impact [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/reports/rsa_from-design-thinking-to-system-change-report.pdf
Watt, A. (2014). Project management. Victoria, BC: BCcampus. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/projectmanagement/
Weiner, B.J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67). doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-4-67