Is your big project suffering from stakeholder aversion?
Is your big project suffering from stakeholder aversion?
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How to Ensure Your Super Project Stays ‘Super’?

How to ensure your big project is a ‘super project'? The answer is: To tackle those factors that could prevent your project from being super ambitious, super confident and super aligned.

The good news is that these factors can be easily identified from our research, listed below. The bad news is that even super projects are vulnerable.

1. Project Myopia: Losing sight of changing business/stakeholder needs & priorities

2. First Mile Neglect: Some fundamental issues or questions are neglected in the rush to get/keep the project going

3. Stakeholder Aversion: A weariness of engaging powerful internal stakeholders (it can lead to disappointment & frustration).

4. Project Pollyanna: Leaders only want good news, with little talk of risks, obstacles & setbacks.

5. The Illusion of Alignment: People say what the leader wants to hear, stay silent or simply nod in agreement.

6. Project Whack-a-Mole: Too many projects competing for scare resources, with little coordination or integration across the project portfolio.

7. Internal Bureaucracy: Committees and bureaucracy are a major drain on productivity and a barrier to getting stuff done.

As you read the list don’t worry if some of the above are new or confusing. In a moment, the choice of names or labels will make perfect sense.

Your Big Project Super Potential

All big projects have the potential to be super projects. That is the affirmative message from our research. It is not Pollyanna, however. There are powerful factors that prevent many projects from fully realizing this potential.

In particular, our research highlights seven factors that bar many big projects from reaching the super projects league. They make it difficult, if not impossible, for your big project to realize super confidence, super ambition and super alignment too.  They also put super teamwork and collaboration out-of-reach.

How might your project be vulnerable?

No big project is invincible. Even super projects have vulnerabilities. That is a set of 7 inherent weaknesses that can rob any big project of their powers of super ambition, confidence and alignment, as well as super team work and collaboration. Think of these vulnerabilities as a metaphorical kryptonite. 

Kryptonite is the fictional radioactive substance that robs superman of his powers. This is a somewhat light-hearted way of talking about an aspect of big projects that is very serious and very real.

Reframing the issue of project risks or vulnerabilities is important because talking about risks and obstacles, although essential, may not be easy. This is particularly true in organizations that only do good news.

The concept of big project vulnerabilities (BPVs) and kryptonite, depersonalizes and de-politicizes the issue of project risk and uncertainty. Typically, the result is a more open and honest dialog.

7 Types of Project Kryptonite

Our research highlights 7 big project vulnerabilities (BPVs). That is 7 types of project kryptonite, as shown below.

1. Project Myopia

Caught up in the busyness of a project, it is easy to lose slight of business needs and priorities, especially at a time of change and uncertainty.

Whether it is an IT, HR or any other kind of project, putting the needs of the business ahead of departmental or project goals is key. We call this a ‘business first’ perspective on a big project.

2. First Mile Neglect / Haste

In the rush to get the project up and running, some key issues may not be fully unaddressed (e.g. business impact or investment). These could, however, come back to haunt the project later.

The fear may be that trying to address key issues up front could prevent the project ever getting off the ground. This is particularly true in slowing moving or bureaucratic organizations. The hope may be that once the project is up and running, issues will be easier to address and the projects will become a fait accompli.

3. Stakeholder Aversion

A reluctance to fully engage senior internal stakeholders. When we do, the results are not always satisfactory. This often stems from challenges with respect of aligning internal stakeholders around the business fundamentals, or why of the projects.

It is dangerous not to involve stakeholders, but involving them as risks too. The engagement can generate additional complexity, or even damage confidence and morale. Rather than being a relationship of equals, it can seem like that of a parent talking to a child.

4. Project Pollyanna

Where leaders only want to hear good news and people can't talk openly about risks, obstacles and setbacks. This can be a symptom of a culture where psychological safety is lacking.

5. Illusion of Alignment

On the surface there may appear to be alignment, but in reality people say what the leader wants to hear, stay silent or simply nod in agreement. Thus, alignment is an illusion. Leaders mistakenly expect people to say what they are thinking, but they are not mind readers.

6. Project Whack-a-mole

Stand-alone project decisions and a lack of alignment result in a project free-for-all.  The result is too many projects competing for scare resources, with little coordination or integration across the project portfolio (what we call a portfolio mindset).

7. Internal Bureaucracy

Paperwork and committees are a major drain on productivity and a barrier to getting stuff done. This is particularly an issue when the need for business unusual levels of change and innovation comes up against traditional hierarchical control.

Which of these 7 big project vulnerabilities (BPVs) represent a potential weakness or vulnerability for your big project? Note these 7 factors are closely related, given how inter-related they are, it is rare for just one of them to exist on its own. For example, stakeholder aversion (the weariness of engaging stakeholders) tends to compound the issue of project myopia (losing sight of business needs & priorities) and first mile neglect (where business issues are left unaddressed in the rush to get a project up and running fast).

Putting Kryptonite in Context

As ‘super’ as Super Man or Super Woman is, they still have a vulnerability – that is kryptonite. This adds an element of realism to their character.  Similarly, even well managed projects, with experienced and dedicated teams, have big project vulnerabilities (BPVs).

The 7 big project vulnerabilities (BPVs) are nothing to be ashamed of, but reflect the real-world complexity of delivering big projects within large organizations at a time of accelerating change and uncertainty. How a big project, and the people leading it, deal with challenges and setbacks is a key part of what really makes them super.

Remember, even superheroes have weaknesses. The same is true of super projects. To be super confident requires embracing these vulnerabilities. This is a Brenne Brown type message of courage and strength through vulnerability.

The prevalence of these big project vulnerabilities (BPVs) are the reason we cannot take super ambition, super confidence and super alignment for granted. Also, why we laud and celebrate them.

Guarding Against Big Project Kryptonite

The mythical kryptonite is the result of a radioactive explosion on superman's home planet.  The source or origin of project kryptonite is a lot more straightforward. The seven factors that prevent big projects from coming, super projects stem is from either too much silence or too much noise in respect of strategy and success. Knowing this, however, the solution is clear.

Every Super or Big Project needs to continually guard against kryptonite-like big project vulnerabilities (BPVs). To do this requires the ability to have effective strategic conversations among all those involved in a project (project leaders, sponsors, stakeholders, etc.). Those are open, honest and searching conversations about strategy and success. 

Although essential, strategic conversations tend not to happen in the busyness of the day to day. Moreover, they are not easy, requiring a new level of openness and honesty, as well as curiosity and courage. They are the means of keeping strategy on track, as well as generating buy-in and support.

Tackling Kryptonite

Are any of the 7 big project vulnerabilities (BPVs) affecting your big project? If yes, here are some tips on how to tackle them:

  • Don't deny or run from them. Rather, embrace these vulnerabilities. When they appear, they are an opportunity to reconnect with the super potential of your project. 
  • Don't take it personally. That may sound strange, but this happens all to often. For example, where a lack of alignment is seen by the leader as a personal slight or failing.
  • Avoid blame. Don't scold the project leader or team. It isn’t anybody’s fault. These factors are systemic, they have more to do with the environment than with a project team.
  • Enlist others in finding a solution. One person cannot fix these things alone. They can set the process in motion, but it requires a collaborative effort. Moreover, it requires open and honest dialog re strategy and success. For many of these issues, there is an important conversation not being had.
  • Go deeper, seek the root of the problem. Not surprisingly, given the complexity involved in a big project, the 7 big project vulnerabilities (BPVs) can be both causes and effects.
    For example, Project Pollyanna (where a big project only does good news) can lead to the illusion of alignment and vice versa. Moreover, the vulnerabilities can symptoms of a deeper issue. For example:
    • Project Myopia (losing sight of business needs) can be a symptom of functional silos and poor cross-functional collaboration.
    • Project Pollyanna (good news only) can be a symptom of poor psychological safety.
    • Project whack-a-mole (proliferation) can be the result of functional solos and a lack of focus and alignment re strategy.
  • Re-examine mindsets and behaviors. The solution to these factors is adaptive, not just technical. That is to say, learning a new skill won't be enough. A change of mindset or behavior is likely to be required. Take for example, project myopia – organizations have traditionally been organized along functional lines, resulting in boundaries and silos.

SOLUTIONS & SERVICES: Here are some of the ways that our research & insights are put to work by our clients:

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