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Key Elements of Project Success

The socio-technical aspects of a project

As a young Organization Development professional, I stumbled upon a Research and Design group that was struggling to complete projects that launch new products. The business unit was at risk of losing market share. I had just learned a project planning process, created by Robert P Crosby, so I used it to help them deliver six projects (up from zero the previous year). To this day, the VP of Research and Design claims the process as THE reason why they were successful.

Major projects and initiatives are part and parcel of organizational life. Almost all large businesses have groups of project managers handling their most critical projects, many with years of experience and most with training in specific project methodologies through organizations such as Project Management Institute (PMI).

Unfortunately, project managers are rarely trained in systems theory and often miss key elements around the people dimension of project management. Those elements are what one may call the socio-technical aspects of a project.

Socio-technical elements include how to:

1) link people together who work in different departments (for some businesses that could mean different cities or even countries),

2) gain clarity of task components, decision making, and sponsorship (as defined in Strategic Organizational Alignment), and

3) strategies to effectively manage conflict that could risk the project timeline.

A structured group project planning process that integrates the socio-technical components is essential to successful projects. Project managers need assigned resources for all people involved in the project to interact using a group process. The project team works together to analyze potential pitfalls and create actions to overcome them.

The video below provides a quick overview of the process in action. I follow the step by step process outlined in Chapter 5 of my book Strategic Engagement Volume II.

When done in conjunction with an aligned system, this process leads to unheard-of business results and huge increases in morale. It is best used for major initiatives requiring alignment across your workforce.

Alignment and sponsorship must be nurtured throughout your project. This is a difficult task and one that must have continued focus. Alignment is much easier to let slip than to maintain, and the role of key managers (Sustaining Sponsors) are often overlooked when things go wrong (see my blog post on The Importance of Goal Alignment for a reference on how to align and for deeper understanding read my book, Strategic Organizational Alignment).

Effective project managers must also be experts at noticing and managing conflict moments. They must be disciplined enough to utilize tools when needed. The socio-technical components aid project managers by giving them structures to fall back on when pinch points arrive (and they almost always do). Clarity of and alignment of sponsors, difficult decisions planned for, and task components in place (single point accountability and by-whens) are basics that projects managers need to succeed.

Project success is attainable! While internal, I worked on over 20 projects and initiatives with one common denominator ─ they all succeeded! They included a twenty location and seven country Oracle implementation, six R&D projects, new bottle cap machines, manufacturing plant integrations and mergers, and combining Lean with change principles in a manufacturing plant.

Incorporate the socio-technical components of projects and your success rate will greatly increase!