On the latest edition of the Guardian Podcast with me, Ryn Melberg, I had a chance to talk with Mark A. Langley who is the president and CEO of the Project Management Institute or PMI. In early November, PMI unveiled its Thought Leadership Series which included ‘Agility’ as a value. Usually when we talk about things to do with Agile here, it is only the process for work that was derived from the software industry. But in this instance, it has to do with organizational agility, or better said, a way to work more quickly and effectively than before. According to Mark and PMI, “to reach their goals, organizations must achieve greater agility—quickly sense and adapt to external and internal changes to deliver results productively and cost-effectively.”
How does agile transformation drive positive change in businesses operations and project delivery? PMI took a look at the people, process, and cultural drivers of agility and found there is significant evidence that all project management approaches—whether predictive, agile, or hybrid—support agility. It sounds easy but is anything but and the reason why well-qualified and trained project leaders are not just needed, but are vital.
Mark told me and the audience, that project leaders were the people who caused organizations to change and work differently as every modification or change-related initiative was the result of project outcomes. Of course, we have talked a lot on the podcast about change management in general so I was interested to know what he thought the most important elements were needed to succeed. Not surprising, Mark said it was leadership from the c suite, but he took it further by saying that leadership was more than simply top-level direction.Mark A Langley of PMI Wants You To Work On The Right Thing
Mark stated that we all know intuitively, anything that comes with executive support will be more successful. No surprise. But PMI’s research affirmed that executive leadership was the single most important thing for project success. As stated, leadership was more than announcing directives. The people in charge need to be ready to address the cultural factors that affect success and cause the mindset-shift needed to new ways of getting work done. The best leaders will set the tone and demonstrate the things needed to realize organizational agility. Everyone involved in project management should know that agility does not only mean going faster, it means adding more value in less time and not simply doing the same old things more quickly. And yes, there is a difference.
Speed is part one the metrics, but not the only one. The organization needs to measure the right thing and the right thing needs to be that which gives customers the best experience possible. You have heard me say on the podcast before that what gets measured gets worked on. So, measuring the wrong thing means, you guessed it, the wrong things are getting worked on. Getting organized around new goals and new ideas that the project team will introduce is important and the most important for the leaders as they must model the desired behavior. Making sure everyone is organized around new goals and has the correct functional alignment to work differently is never easy. So, do not make it more challenging by merely talking about change, make it yours.
Mark also had an interesting take on the notion of ‘failing faster’ and the overall approach to mistakes in that what we really want is to learn faster. The other side of this coin is risk aversion that often stifles creative or unorthodox approaches to problem solving. Mark and PMI advocate empowering cross-functional teams to take those risks in the context of preventing competitive disruptions or pressure. Empower people to change the way they work. To go more quickly it is not possible to use old product or process reviews that take lots of time. Want to be agile as in nimble? Empower employees after making sure that everyone understands what is different and why.
Finally, I asked if it was possible to ‘invent’ or encourage a culture where cross-functional cooperation was the norm? Mark said yes it’s possible. Hurray! But there was a caveat and it involved organizational silos, these can cause trouble. Mark said that silos were individual problems and not organizational and recommended managing individual behavior. I like this idea because it involves more critical thinking and often gets to the behavior that is creating blocks to progress. Another potential stumbling block is a lack of proper resources as readily available assets are often controlled by functional business units and those are pooled into a cross-functional teams. To streamline this, C-suite sponsors need to make sure that the resources are there where and when needed.
Mark A Langley of PMI Wants You To Work On The Right Thing