Project Management Discussion - a Case Study On Team Management (Part-II)

Previously we posted a case study about project team management. Let's briefly revisit the case & look at case discussion and turn to what really happened.

The case overview:

As TeleMeck - the telecom IT services company saw phenomenal growth of its 'Billing & Payments' department. However, the department-head - John Gillon, recently started hearing negative feedback about deliveries from customers.

Knowing limitation of existing group members, John recruited a certified project manager - Alex, to streamline the project management process in his department and specifically assigned him to 'Institutional Billing' group. 'Institutional Billing' sub-group was managed by Thomas.

Later on John indicated Alex that he has not delivered as expected. In Alex's opinion, he did not get enough support from the team, which was not listening to him ( team reporting to Thomas). Essentially, Alex was not give enough powers yet expected to deliver.

Realizing that things are not going to change, Alex was deliberating about leaving TeleMeck. He also mentioned about leaving TeleMeck to John.


Case discussion:

In previous post, we received great response from readers. I am re-posting it here for the benefit of readers. Jamie said: First and foremost, unless there is an organizational buy-in; Alex's effort will ineffective.
  1. It is John's responsibility to provide strong support to Alex. Alex can not implement sound practices without having enough power.

  2. If necessary, John should convey strong signal (appropriately) to Thomas, Sarah, Silton and team.

  3. IMO, considering the facts presented here, Alex is a poor fellow. He is at a wrong place.

[Dhan] Re: You said it correctly that resources should to be empowered aptly and should have a right environment to work, in order to work effectively .

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Kevin said:

For Alex, it is clearly a case of responsibility without power. John could have arranged for a project management consultant or trainer who would have trained existing staff members.

  • For the current staff, a new PM was pushed on them; hence it is not surprising to see that they have reservations for new project manager. (I am not saying that they are correct. If it is a change for good, they have to accept it)

  • It appears as if, John himself is not sure of how things are going to shape up.

[Dhan] Re: Generally, we have resistance to any change. As you said, if the change is for greater good; we should embrace it.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Martin said:

What sort of manager Alex is, who doesn't know who's working on what?

Is it fair to assume that Alex failed to convince Thomas as well as John that how things are going wrong, since he was not getting real picture from the team? It is true, nobody likes to see that his current practices are wrong, Alex could show-case how these practices can be improved? Can he arrange for sessions for Thomas, Siton, Sarah, etc. to explain together they can make it better?

I agree with Kevin, John need to strongly support Alex without making Thomas feel insecure.

[Dhan] Re: It is a right approach, Alex might have failed to convince Thomas about the larger benefits of the Project Management practices Alex wanted to introduce.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sabitha said:

The case is here is quite similar to my current situation and in this case both John and Alex are wrong in the way they approached the situation. Surprisingly enough the solution is as simple as a communication approach and applying a management methodology. Here is how it can be done:

John: Bringing in a Project Manager is a huge change for both Thomas and Sara. Understand and identify the response these 2 would have when a 3rd person is brought in. Communicate with them what is lacking with the projects and let them understand the need & value in hiring a certified experienced PM. John jumped in without his team buy-in ahead of time and hence the resistance from Thomas and Sara is quite natural. John also could have communicated the challenges as well as team dynamics with Alex beforehand and maintain that integrity.

Alex: As a newly hired PM, there was no authority given to Alex over Thomas and Sara's work. Alex knows what he is stepping into and should have a clear communication as in what kind of support he can expect from John. Before promising your deliverables, know the boundaries - Risk management 101. Hence Alex turned out frustrated wanting to leave job instead of finding a balanced ground to help Thomas, Sara and most importantly the company.

The trend I have seen so far within management styles has been quite an unfortunate scene. Throw somebody in and expect problems to be fixed, this might work on a manufacturing floor with a bit of griping. It is different with a pool of highly talented professionals. What lacked here was appropriate change management and communication.

[Dhan] Re: As you correctly pointed out - though John is leading the department and directing it, the clarity of communication, buy-in from team is not seen. He clearly missed to foresee and realize that things could go wrong if this change was not received well.

Alex is frustrated since he could not even work normally, for the very reason that he has no powers and was not received well by the team. You are so right in your closing para. Absolute truth and unfortunate reality - "throw somebody at a problem and expect things to turn out hunky-dory", does not work in these scenarios. In such cases, management and leadership is really more about, right change management approach and clear communication. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------  

The subsequent events in reality:

  • Alex escalated issues once more to John that he did not have any power (forget about coercive power) to set new practices which team does not comply/support and merely being catalyst of change is not working any more
  • John refuted the argument that his team members are not ready to change, and he asked Alex to try his level best to implement project management processes (like documenting planning, ensuring quality and auditing all important processes, etc)
  • Alex came to conclusion that he is knocking wrong door, he asked for Marna's (John's boss) appointment.
  • When Alex met Marna and presented his point of views. Marna sensed that current team was resisting new practices Alex was trying to put in place. Till then, Thomas and team were not following standardized processes and delivery was much ad-hoc. Since John has been reporting positive progress and is confident of future business, Marna came do a decision not to interfere with Thomas's decision.
  • Clearly for Marna, "If it is not breaking, don't fix it" was the mantra of moving forward. Hence she decided not to bring organization change to fix it.
  • but there was no alternate way in TeleMeck; hence he decided to leave TeleMeck & he actually left.
So there are many aspects in this case, it was a case of
  • Improper change management without team buy-in
  • Expecting things to work smoothly, without empowering right set of people or training them
  • Lack of foresight from leadership perspective
Do you have any different argument?