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Taming Chaotic Project Management - Seismic Change and the Cowboy

Posted Jan 05 2010 4:57am

We all have known a cowboy or two in our times. Cowboys are all about innovative ways to get the job done. They are focused upon resolving the current challenge, satisfying the customer as quickly as possible, and moving onto the next challenge. Cowboys ride very loose when it comes to process controls like resource allocation, project prioritization, and change management. If your organization is at the begun to implement the standardization processes of ITIL and/or a PMO, a seismic change for our cowboys is coming. As we previously discussed, there are 3 levels of IT leadership based upon organizational sophistication. The question to be answered with implementing the PMO is how to maintain the good execution focus and grow the cowboys into organizers.

Common resistance tactics and ways to handle them:

  • Resistance to adopt new processes and guidelines - Most often this resistance comes from fear of changing the patterns which have brought the individual to this level of success. The key to overcoming this resistance is three-fold. First clearly identify the benefits of the the new process and guidelines, walk the individual through a consequences discussion. Next illustrate senior management's support for this new effort. Finally bring conformity through review and buy in to the process. Incorporate suggestions from the cowboy leadership which are in spirit with the new processes.
  • Fear due to lack of knowledge - The fear of something new typically shows up as the comment, "we don't know if this is going to help". Use this opening as the beginning of an investigation to find the places where it will not help. Afterwards look at the problem from mentor's perspective walking through leading questions to help the individual see how it will help. If during this Socratic method, you realize there is a gap in knowledge take the opportunity to share knowledge again.
  • Overwhelmed by workload and multiple assignments - This resistance commonly manifests itself as "I am busy enough" or "I don't have time for this XXX." These are markers of an unacceptable pace of change and a lack of understanding of the benefits. If the standardize processes will bring about implementations with less technical debt, educate the naysayers on this eventual time savings. If the pace of change is too rapid, find out how to help the naysayers cross the change river.
  • Need to change work habits and pick up new skills - The best way to learn is when it is fun, have some team building exercises and different educational choices to build new skills. Most learn through doing, so establishing a mentoring program is very helpful.
  • Shift of authority and decision making power - This will be a common resistance pattern as the cowboys are used to making the decisions themselves, not having the sponsor or executive leadership with authority for prioritization. Have linked incentives to the performance goals for the change, additionally provide coaching in how having the business governance accountable helps the overall performance of the organization.

The TakeAway

Crossing the change river is hard. Some cowboys who are true entrepreneurs will not be able to cross, others will. Our job as leaders is to help them try, and find the best seat on the bus for them, even if sometimes it is another bus.

Please feel free to share your experiences with this topic, as through shared collaboration we all learn.

Further Readings on Taming Chaotic Project Management:

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