If you Google the term ‘Project Management’ you will hundreds of millions of results. It is a multi-billion dollar business and there are official institutes that train Project Managers. So why do so many projects still fail to deliver? In this post we are concerned with internal projects in an organization and what happens when the organization is hampered by hierarchy and silos.
Bashing up against the walls of silos
Projects are made up of tasks and resources. In a siloed organization, these resources may well be spread across different ‘departments’ or ‘functions’. When an organization is fragmented in this way and its measurement system is geared up to reflect those fragments, then each department tries to protect its local optima. This means that there is little incentive to share resources and collaborate, because there will be no recognition or reward for that behavior. Everyone is protecting their own turf. There is no sense of the resources working towards a common goal because it is hard to see beyond the artificial barriers of silos to a place where everybody’s efforts are recognized. This alone is enough to create artificial delays in the delivery of a project.
I’d like to but I can’t
Even when resources are keen and willing to do their best in a project, this is not enough. Unless processes have been clearly mapped out and optimized, then there will be multiple circumstances where somebody cannot deliver what is asked of them. This is because there is a mismatch between the responsibility the person is given and the authority they have to carry out that responsibility. At the very least, where this mismatch occurs, resources will have to waste time by going back to ask permission to do something they are perfectly capable of delivering. This again creates unnecessary delays.
Solving the problem of a mismatch in authority and responsibility can be straightforward when there is the organizational will to do so. The first step is to recognize that there is a problem. Resources need to feel at ease with raising a flag to their dilemma any time they would like to act but they do not have the appropriate authority. When it is recognized that granting the authority they need is in the interests of the organization, then fixing the problem can take minutes. No matter how much chatter there may be around the subject of empowerment, we can thank Dr. Goldratt for a precise, powerful and operational definition of empowerment: aligning authority with responsibility. Everything else is noise.
Not sure if I want to
When resources and tasks are clearly mapped out, authority and responsibility are aligned and somebody still doesn’t do what they’re supposed to, it means that the person is in a state of conflict that they have not been able to verbalize. They know they should carry out a task but something is stopping them from doing it so they procrastinate. This becomes another source of delay. Fortunately, there is powerful systemic tool to deal with the problem, allowing the process of delivering the project to be smoothed out. The Conflict Cloud, a Thinking Process Tool from the Theory of Constraints, enables people to verbalize where they are stuck. They can then systematically identify all the assumptions they are making that are keeping them stuck and challenge them. This tool has been used in a myriad of environments for almost twenty years and never fails to deliver not just a solution, but the kind of mental habits that lead to more intelligent management.
Overcoming hierarchy and silos through projects
Once we recognize that we can see everything an organization does as a project, either projects that repeat, like book-keeping, or one-off projects like a communication campaign, then we enter a whole new reality. We have found the key to overcoming the artificial blockages and delays of an organization based on hierarchy and silos. We will look at this new solution in our next post.
See also our post ‘Project Manager: A Systemic View’
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Inspired by real life events, this novel provides a fast-paced narrative and an online Knowledge Base of tools and insights for systemic management. Written by Angela Montgomery, PhD.