People - at the core of PRINCE2 7
Jo Lucas - Co-Author, PRINCE2 7
It should be obvious that people are central to the success of any project.
Relationships, teams doing amazing stuff, people either blocking or helping change: these are things we talk about constantly.
Which is why the new people chapter is the largest single addition to PRINCE2 7.
And part of enhancing this element of the method is being more deliberate about how we interact with others in change initiatives.
Building relationships in an uncertain world
When delivering a straightforward change that you’ve done before, you apply what you did last time. This makes sense and you can then focus on efficiency.
However, in an uncertain world (such as the one we live in), there are few periods of a steady state. In projects, things will be thrown at the team – budget changes, a new head of department, new legislation, etc – which cause impact. This needs greater resilience, which relies on having good relationships.
Being more deliberate means having an awareness of who the key relationships are within a project and ensuring you build those relationships.
For example, one project I know of was led at the start by an engineer working with a trusted group of people, adopting governance and assurance directly with the team. Then, in the project’s next phase, the new leader had a different background, more political nous but less direct technical knowledge and pre-existing relationships. Applying the same best practice approach failed to work, until this was changed to allow the new leader to develop trusted relationships with the technical specialists, who could then play a more prominent role in the governance and assurance processes.
Despite the process needing to change in such scenarios, there is often fear of tinkering with process. In keeping with the tailoring advice within PRINCE2 7, the guidance gives permission to shift and evolve the approach depending on the circumstances.
PRINCE2 7: people are central to the method
In my previous exploration of the “people factor” in project management, projects were likened to forests in which uprooting and changing people around without thinking is like ripping up trees. It doesn’t help anything or anyone to prosper.
You may have heard someone say: “If only we had better people.” But, in reality, you rarely get to choose a project team, never mind the “perfect” project team. Instead – as PRINCE2 7 now highlights – it’s about working with the team you actually have and adapting processes to them, not the other way. This takes less energy and is more likely to work.
The latest guidance also acknowledges that “command and control” approaches for leading teams are ineffective. Instead, your job is to influence people and teams.
By tailoring the PRINCE2 7 method based on knowing the people involved, the relationships and the stage of the project, you can create a project culture that aligns better with the overall organization. So, when a project emerges into the organization, this helps to minimize resistance and scepticism about whether the project’s products will work, be adopted or achieve benefits.
As PRINCE2 7 isn’t a prescriptive method, it gives wriggle room to adapt it. While most of the hard work is already embedded in the guidance, it allows practitioners to contextualize it for their project. Especially when leading a project across organizational boundaries, it’s more about awareness raising, bringing people on the journey with you and demonstrating the benefits to them. This gives the potential for people to be empowered, engaged and to co-create their own processes within the framework.
The people factor in: leading successful change
Leading successful change means looking at the routines that need to change: which business as usual processes are affected? Who’s involved? What should happen at the other end? How do people work with, for example, a digital tool at the end of a transformation project?
These questions are part of a deeply human exercise which involves working with people whose responsibilities may have shifted and understanding the impact of change on them. When this leads to people blocking a change, look at how the system is affecting them rather than seeking someone to blame.
For example, two people who have worked together for years may end up working apart because of change. But they’re not cogs in a wheel and operate at a social level, which means they might actively resist the change. If project leaders recognize this, they can see the value of maintaining key relationships rather than imposing change. Equally, forcing two department heads who are incompatible socially to work together may scupper your project if you don’t find a way to mitigate the conflict for the common good.
When adopting a project into an organization, you need the right relationships in place: paying attention to the human factor beyond just what the business function needs from transformation, understanding the impact on people and thinking about how to accelerate and unblock the blockers based on their personal motivations.
The people factor in: communication
The proliferation of both formal and informal communications in and around organizations – and in the context of virtual, hybrid, and office working – means leaders are facing the greatest “gossip mill” ever. It matters less what leadership says than what people hear.
But by engaging with the vital 3% of key influencers across the enterprise, they can obtain feedback about what people are really hearing and ensure messages are designed for different audiences; therefore, getting ahead of the story and providing facts repeatedly.
Communication activity as part of relationship building needs to be done deliberately. For example, when bringing people together in one place it should include social aspects such as lunch or other activities. Unstructured time is also necessary for people working virtually, with the aim of making it easier for them to interact outside of structured meetings and encouraging them to connect with each other.
The relationships they form informally will help build the resilience they need today.
What’s the payback of people-led projects?
People are the most likely factors to either block or accelerate a successful project. This means taking the time to observe your people and how they relate to each other. In doing this, the chances of achieving successful change are vastly improved.
The level of disengagement in the post-Covid 19 workforce is significant and, therefore, leaders need to look after their people or pay a high price with turnover and colleagues not working to their full ability. Those things aside, it’s about fundamentally looking after our fellow human beings.
Incorporating concepts like this in a project management method with the reach of PRINCE2 7 validates those concepts and gives practitioners permission to take them seriously.