Beware The Interim State
Updated: Jan 9, 2021
By Arthur Drewitt
Recent events may have scholars reaching for their copies of Max Weber’s 1922 essay The Three Types of Legitimate Rule. Weber suggested that legitimate “domination” (the right to exercise power and a willingness to obey orders), and the associated administrative apparatus can only be one of three “pure types” of domination: Charismatic, Traditional or Legal. These pure types of domination will almost certainly evolve over time The death of a charismatic leader may lead the ruled to consider that the traditional way of doing things is appropriate and correct. In turn, a long-developed body of rules and proper procedures gives leaders the legitimacy to exercise power within the limits set by these same rules. While this evolution may seem inevitable as entities move from a (potentially) chaotic Charismatic rule to a more rational and bureaucratic leadership based on rules and regulations, one only has to look at the recent news to see that this is not necessarily a one-way street. The emergence of disruptive socio-economic forces or charismatic leaders can upset this progression. Of course, business also has a long history of evolving through various theories and frameworks of leadership (the word “domination” seemingly to have fallen out of favour). From Taylorism and scientific management through maximisation of shareholder value to today’s digital disruption, organisations are in a constant state of flux.
The Lessons for Project Management
Organizations have for generations been well-served by the more traditional waterfall approach to project management. But the specific peculiarities of large software implementations coupled with the ever-tightening timeframes and budgets has revealed shortcomings to this approach. While the exact percentages of IT projects deemed to “fail” vary widely, anybody who has been involved in large IT projects will be fully aware that they are seem predestined to fall short of targets: scope, quality, budgets and timelines. In her 2017 book of the same name, Lindsay Herbert calls Digital Transformation “… your company’s ability to react and successfully utilise new technologies and procedures - now and in the future”. Implicit in this “ability to react” is the concept of being agile. Very few organisations would want to be striving towards a digital transformation without also claiming that they have agile thinking, processes and procedures fully baked into their organisation. But beware. Just as modern history shows that the transition from one form of ruling authority to another can cause significant upheaval, businesses also face significant challenges. While long-established bureaucracy and governance is being dismantled and newer agile processes adopted, the interim state poses many pitfalls. As moving towards a more agile organisation takes a significant period of time (in the order of years, not months) organisations will be faced with a situation of multiple, overlapping streams of project management techniques. Large projects being managed using waterfall techniques will run up against other projects adopting an agile approach. This can result in a host of conflicts. The differing pace of multiple projects, deliverable dates, views on quality, alignment of dependencies and a host of other pain-points. Most importantly, employees who may only have knowledge or experience of one way of working will feel confused, frustrated and may reject new ways of working. How can this be controlled?
Making Change Easier
As the agile technique of Scrum celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, many organisations are well on their way to evolving agile ways of working to help them on their path to digital transformation. But before jumping in with both feet, they would be wise to carefully plan and implement ways of effectively integrating traditional and more modern project management techniques. From building robust governance structures, employee training, and preparing for organisational change all the way through to fundamentally rethinking the definitions of “success” and “failure” are all critical steps towards preparing and following the path towards digital transformation. The transition of power may not always be painless. And while a digital transformation will also have its share of difficulties, preparing an organisation’s employees for the shift to more agile ways of working is a critical task that should not be forgotten.
At TBM Partners, we work with our clients to co-create and implement business strategy, clearly defining the changes required and structuring the portfolio of programs and projects required to deliver sustainable business benefits.