I was recently involved in a project to increase engagement in an upcoming learning space, currently under construction at my place of work. The idea was to increase awareness of the space and the philosophy behind its existence and planned use. I was temporarily teamed up with a small group of colleagues from various areas of the college to develop the engagement plan under the leadership of a manager more closely associated with the learning space.
While the engagement plan we developed showed promise, our recommendations to secure resources for its execution were never really considered and the resulting plan was never executed. Looking back, having explored some of the literature on change implementation and project management, I now recognize that while we got some elements of the planning process right, there are some ways I would have approached this project differently.
To begin on a positive note, we did a good job of identifying the main stakeholders of the project and those who would benefit from being more engaged in the learning space. We spent a lot of time considering who I now understand Murray-Webster and Simon (2006) would have called Saviours; those people who, once engaged, would act as the project’s cheerleaders. We developed a profile of their interests, motivations, and connection to the college. That profile was then used to build an interactive program to be delivered through Zoom which would build awareness of the space, deliver actionable instructional tools, and engage participants in a series of collaborative exercises. Additionally, while we didn’t officially complete what Watt (2014) identified as a feasibility study, we did consider what resources those people who would execute the project would require to move forward, and made the appropriate recommendations. Unfortunately, those recommendations were not seriously considered, and it was this that led to the project’s failure.
On the other hand, there was much we could have done better. We did not have what Watt (2014) would have described as a critical path; a plan for the project including timelines identifying steps to be completed or risk holding up the entire project. If we had taken the time to develop this path and followed it closely, almost certainly we would have recognized much earlier that nothing regarding the acquisition of the necessary resources was being done. Another mistake we made was to not determine quantitative objectives that would have determined successful implementation of the project, as Watt recommended. While the project didn’t get to the point where those quantitative objectives could have been measured, if it had, we would have eventually run into problems trying to measure the project’s success. Having said all that, the largest downfall of our project, in my estimation, which led to its failure was our leader’s lack of understanding of the system in which we were working. Conway et al. (2017) observed that a leader has to have a strong understanding of their system in order to arrive at the most appropriate solution for the problem. Our leader’s lack of such an understanding is what led to our recommendations to acquire resources being ignored and when it was time for our small team to step back and hand off the project for implementation, there was no one in a position to hand it to.
I look forward to making use of the skills I’ve recently learned about change leadership and project management. I will have countless projects ahead of me and I will increase the likelihood for their success if I take a little more time to take a systematic approach.
Conway, R., Masters, J., & Thorold, J. (2017). From design thinking to systems change: How to invest in innovation for social impact. In RSA Action and Research Centre. https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/reports/rsa_from-design-thinking-to-system-change-report.pdf
Murray-Webster, R., & Simon, P. (2006). Making sense of stakeholder mapping. PM World Today, 8(11), 1–5. http://skat.ihmc.us/rid=1JGD4CJZ4-F9CF0Y-1KM6/SEMINAL stakeholder mapping in 3d.pdf
Watt, A. (2014). Project Management (2nd ed.). BCcampus. https://opentextbc.ca/projectmanagement/