Little Grip, and a Lot Of Trust: Some Observations

Two different project management related stories came to my attention this week. Both very different in context, but also very alike in pointing out my beliefs on successful change management.

The 1st Example: The Change and Improvement Program 'Enabling New Initiatives'

Reading the blog by Olga Warffemius on the process improvement program at Erasmus University Medical Center (EMC), and trying to understand the problem achieving her team conquered, strengthens me in my believe that answering the "Why?" question is crucial to get changes rolling. Only after involved parties felt that they understood what the reason for the program was, not pure cost cutting, but improving their own business process output, it became their "Why" and thus the driver for change.
Olga explains it as the Trust-factor. I would argue that there is also a Me-factor involved: Why would I change? Will this bring me more satisfaction in my work, because my process output is better and therefore my customers more happy? Generic observation: Without trust (in yourself) no change.

The Paper Pushing Paradox

Another element of the EMC example shows the absence of a pitfall in which too many project run into: The paper pushing paradox. Of course one needs a good organization structure, reporting, and documenting approach for any project. But by mechanically filling in forms and reports the prime risks of a project are not managed: What is the real progress? Why are projects always on track until 80% of budget and time are consumed, and at that point all "unexpected", "unforeseen" and "unmanaged" issues appear? Well there is no real grip. Despite all procedures the project is not a mechanical thing that acts upon binary rules but a living organism with fuzzy rules. The success of Olga's project is, because she should could not get grip on the complex organization, she left that secondary and focused on getting the trust by letting involved parties discover their reasons for change.

The 2nd Example: A Financial ERP-implementation At a Very Large Financial Institution

One might argue that the above might be true for complex business improvement projects, but not for straight forward IT-projects. Well here is another case.
A business friend told me about a financial Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation project. When talking to the project manager he found out that there was almost no grip on correctness of both planning and progress. This project was a one-of-its-kind exercise, replacing a lot of older systems and interfacing with anything else. The way it worked out, they now completely rely upon the input of the ERP-vendor, and the system integrator. Although I doubt that the organization has chosen this situation on purpose, they think it will work to rely upon trust. Is this naive? Well of course they are looking for some benchmark figures and achieved milestones to put their mind at ease, and yes, they have reserved more budget than agreed. But they think this outweighs the impossible (or at least costly and time consuming) activities to get grip on all involved internal units and politics, and a potential lower project quote. Until now it seems to work and they are getting close to the 80% mark…

My observation

My observation: Investing in trust brings more than just investing in grip.

As always, comments welcomed.

Contact Hans van Nes at

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