The real differentiator

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Written by Eddie Kilkelly on 10 February 2014

As human beings we have been managing projects since before "records began". I say that with some confidence as I have never seen the Lessons Learned Report for the Stonehenge project and I am sure that there were very many. Looking around us it is easy to see the skills that we possess in delivering change from the technological advances we have made over the centuries. Even prior to the invention of modern computers I remain in awe of the inspired minds that harnessed the power of nature allowing us to travel by sea and air.

In spite of this impressive track record, you would be excused for thinking that we have seriously lost our way. A regular glance at the front page of newspapersl will alert you to financial losses of multi-millions (if not billions) of pounds through project failures.

A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers reviewed 10,640 projects from 200 companies across various industries in 30 countries. Only 2.5 per cent of the companies successfully completed 100 per cent of their projects and according to the US PMI's Pulse of the Profession Report in 2013, the top eight per cent of performers have $20,000 at risk for every $1M committed whereas the bottom 22 per cent have an equivalent figure of $280,000. Where do we each sit on this continuum I wonder?

Change management through projects is perhaps the greatest opportunity, challenge and threat to businesses today. Delivered well, successful projects can help you leapfrog over the competition, delivered badly, failed projects become the biggest drain on your resources and morale.

Imagine travelling on an escalator that is moving in the wrong direction. Doing nothing moves you further away from your goal and so the only way to reach it is to pick up your pace and move swiftly.  Rest assured your competitors are wrestling with many of the same challenges and striving to move forward. The race is truly on.

For almost twenty years, the demand for project management qualifications has increased dramatically. The principles and processes of change management are widely understood and yet there is still plenty of room for improvement in performance. So what are the key development areas for change leaders in 2014?  

Emotional Intelligence is the new "Black"

I am fortunate enough to work with project leaders managing multi-million pound projects. As you would expect they share many obvious qualities. They are technically aware, purposeful, objective, assertive and highly experienced. The key challenges they face are those of stakeholder agendas, competing priorities, commercial challenges, complexity and office politics. Effectively navigating around this potential minefield is critical to a successful project.  

Mary McKinley, a director of the Association for Project Management, recently estimated that 80 per cent of the causes of project failure were attributable to people. Change leaders must consider whether they have the emotional intelligence and people skills to engage, communicate and persuade effectively.

Emotional development can be viewed as a series of concentric circles. If you visualsze the innermost circle as representing yourself personally, then areas for development revolve around self-awareness - understanding the impact you have on others - and the techniques for building greater personal resilience. Leadership can be a lonely place!

Surrounding "Self" is a second circle which represents your team and this is the second priority. Understanding how to work well with people, valuing their diversity and different personalities and also how they perceive you becomes essential. A disconnect here can be catastrophic and there is a hugely damaging potential for this.

Finally, and forming the outer circle, is your extended supply chain and your customers. Understanding the stakeholders and their concerns can help to align them more effectively. Conflict management, negotiation, commercial approaches and market awareness become essential qualities for the change leader.

We already know that none of us is as smart as all of us and the whole should be greater than the sum of the parts. Working effectively together within a clear framework requires emotional intelligence and developing these skills within a project context is the best way to build the next generation of highly effective change leaders.

About the author
Eddie Kilkelly is managing director at insynergi®. He can be contacted via www.insynergi.org or follow on Twitter @insynergi.

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