We count cost to life and limb on a building project yet strangely not on IT projects
I was walking past the Marina Sands site in Singapore on the phone to a friend. At several billion dollars in design, man hours, fine art and no doubt many interesting stories, this project is amazing. I saw a sign reporting safety with a tagline of ‘everyone home without harm, every day’. Ie no deaths, no injuries. A back of the envelope calcuation told me just how amazing a feat this was – over several hundred man-years have gone into this construction.
‘I’m having heart palpitations’ my friend said. My attention returned to the call. ‘One of my male Korean colleagues has just burst into tears, and the new American guy has just done the hairy foreigner’. (‘doing the hairy foreigner’ is a term meaning to lose one’s temper at staff in Asia – very un-cool).
“Just a moment! Hasn’t your transformation program just kicked off?’ I asked…
The writing is on the wall
Those few seconds re-defined the project in my mind. From one that looked well set up, there were now warning signs for failure. Three of the senior team leading the transformation were showing signs of major stress and after the last year, most of the people in the business were likely to be stressed (coping with recession, family members loosing jobs, having your savings depleted supporting them, worrying about your own job will do this even for the lucky folk with a job).
Stress on both sides. Next step, heart attacks or long term leave for people. For the business, project results and organizational productivity at risk.
Often, these risks are considered once an executive has a heart attack. Other people step up to carry the team – more stress, a negative cycle begun. It becomes normal. For most of us in project land, we are used to the adrenaline of overdrive.
Just what will this cost the organization? Project delay becomes likely as replacements are found. Key relationships are broken as people depart (either from resignation or from death). Results are delayed as people and the business focus on recovery and repair. This is before the long term consequences of the way the project would introduce change are considered. It is obvious that a project is about introducing change. The question is… are the intended consequences palatable?
Consider for a moment, France Télécom and 20 suicides (that’s death) attributed to the way a major transformation was managed. Death from suicide or heart attacks is major. More subtle is the psychological and social impact of change on the people in the organization – and their families.
This dimension is rarely taken into account.
It’s pollution. Intended or not, it’s a cost that someone else bears.
In the world of IT projects and business transformation, it might be a decision that saves project effort and leaves a work-around for the business. It might be a process change that puts more responsibility onto another department without their informed agreement. It might literally be body count or injury.
The construction industry actually measures this. They are held accountable for health and safety of those on the site. They even need to keep their environment clean (the wheels of trucks leaving a site are hosed down to remove dirt so streets aren’t polluted in Singapore).
For a business seeing itself as an integrated system, one whose performance is driven by people, processes and technology, a change process that succeeds on the technological front but fails on the people front is a failure.
Certainly, long term business results from transformation are jeopardized. Few executives would like to be under the investigation at France Télécom. Likewise, few people like to be on the receiving end of ‘pathogenic’ restructuring.
Will this project succeed or fail?
The business case stacks up, the intended goals are clear, risks to results are considered. The project looks great. Yet, what is the body count? What injuries are considered ‘acceptable to health and safety’ in the workplace? Where is the project likely to create pollution in the business?
Has the project considered these? Does the organizational change charter pay adequate attention to managing these risks to results? To people? To performance?
An Organisational Change Charter defines the project’s approach to introducing change into the business from the perspective of people and processes. It dovetails with the IT Program Charter which defines expectations of the IT side of the business transformation.
Executives leading successful projects focus on people.
Rules of Engagement
It’s about respect. In all relationships. Define how people are to be respected thru-out the course of the project. This applies equally to executives, the team, partners and to people affected by the project in the organizations.
What is good (enough) for one is for all.
[A byline comment… Big projects require partners. It is a rare organization that knows so much or has spare capacity that they can run their business and transform at the same time without support. Respect operates here too. Results are a team effort. Partners are part of the team.]
Four questions to ask about Body Count and Pollution:
- Has the project stated explicit goals (accountability) for its impact on people both in the project and the business in the Organisational Change Charter for the project?
- Have the relevant interested parties (stakeholders) signed off on these goals?
- Is the project plan and budget funded to do what is needed adequately?
- Has the Results Risk Management plan documented key risks arising from high stress levels in the project team or in the organization?
Validate the responses to see that the project is prepared to recognize reality. Body count is real. Injury is real. Pollution is real.
Next consider where risks to results lie in the project team and in the business. Move the Organisational Change Charter into an effective Organizational Change Strategy.
Returning to my call as I walked past Marina Sands… ‘Have the executives sponsoring the project realized where the team is right now? And the business implications of current reality?…’