Creating Program Culture


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Program process strategy is not about taking boilerplate plan, process, and structure templates and implementing them. It is about understanding the organizational context and making conscious decisions about what processes (detail, depth, breadth) are required in that context on the basis of the program goals.

Our Guide to Executing the Keys of Program Process Strategy:

Part 1 of 6: Creating Program Culture
Part 2 of 6: How Mentoring Relationships Will Be Established
Part 3 of 6: How Project Managers Are Assigned
Part 4 of 6: How Project Management Administrative Functions Are Assigned
Part 5 of 6: How to Grow Organizational Capabilities by Increasing the Capabilities of Project Managers
Part 6 or 6: How to Balance Process and People

Part 1 of 6: Creating Program Culture

If you had to teach a hundred non-swimmers to swim, you could line them up at the edge of a pool, throw them in the water, and say, “Swim!” A small percentage would swim successfully without instruction. The majority, however, would have to be pulled from the pool to avoid disaster. But with a proper culture—in this case, proper instruction—all those swimmers could learn effectively.

Similarly, some in your organization already know how to succeed and how to deliver projects regardless of the culture in which they work. You’ll find that a small percentage of project managers can and always will deliver the goods regardless of the circumstances. Often their success can lead us to believe incorrectly that those who are not as successful are somehow less capable or are deficient. But as leaders, we have to create a culture that maximizes the success and development of all project managers, not just the gifted few who seem able to do well with or without us.

As a leader, you must assess the culture you create for your project managers and implement changes that are not just quick fixes of single problems but have positive long-term effects on the culture. Analyze your project management culture. Ask your project managers what single thing about the way the organization conducts project management they would change if they could. Pay attention to what they say and listen to your instincts about which of the suggested improvements you could implement. You are likely to find that you have more improvement opportunities than you can effectively implement right away; therefore, prioritize them and make the top items a reality for your project managers.

Changing culture takes time, continued action, follow-up, and communication. Identifying a solution may be easy; the challenge lies in implementing and instilling that solution within the organization. If it were easy, every organization would have a great, highly effective culture. Therefore, you must get accustomed to deferring gratification when it comes to changing the culture even as you maintain passions and initiate actions to change it.

When a mistake happens or a project fails, a few people will criticize the individual perceived to be responsible. However, more perceptive leaders will ask an important question, which I have learned to ask myself and which I challenge you to ask when something goes amiss: How did we, as management, set up this person to fail? We know the person is capable and has a desire to do the right thing and be successful, so what is it about our process and our culture that caused him or her to fail?

When you ask and answer this question, you are on the way to creating and improving a culture of success. Remember, it is often the best people who make the worst mistakes, because the best people do the most complex work. For this reason, they will attempt to do what it takes to make it happen and will try the most creative solutions. The average worker is not only doing less work, he or she is also doing less risky work and is less likely to make mistakes. Teach your project managers and regulate yourself not to overreact when people make mistakes. Culture change takes time, but the investment is worth the effort.

Once your team has decided on their plan and process, PPM software can help you execute that process. WorkOtter helps you successfully execute your program process strategy for project success. Get a demo of WorkOtter and see how we can make your program management effective.

“The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management, Second Edition” by James T. Brown is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. ©2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Purchase the book on Amazon.