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Project Management Isn't the Problem: Resistance To Change Is The Problem

        posted by , April 07, 2013

Project management often gets the blame for project failure.

In fact, it's common to equate project failure with project management failure. After all, project managers run the show.

It's often difficult (or impossible) to determine the root cause of project failure. Most projects fail under the weight of dozens of issues.

Project issues are most often symptomatic of chronic organizational problems. The biggest such problem is resistance to change.

Resistance to change is a corporate culture issue that's usually well beyond the authority of project management to fix. The following 7 issues are all examples of resistance to change. They are increasingly recognized as the real culprit behind project failures.

1. Resistance to Change

Resistance to change is a well known obstacle for projects. When stakeholders, project teams and organizations strongly resist your project — you have little chance of success. In many cases, it's well beyond the authority, influence and abilities of the sponsor to clear such issues.

Resistance to change may result in direct opposition to a project. However, it also results in obstructive and passive aggressive behavior that can be difficult to detect and counteract.

2. Politics vs. Change

Political resistance is a common type of resistance to change. People may resist your project for purely political reasons using political strategies and tactics.

In many cases, people will resist a project that a political adversary supports. Political obstructions are a common cause of project failure.

3. Low Quality Inputs

Stakeholders who resist a project tend to provide low quality inputs. For example, junior staff may be assigned to develop requirements and other critical project inputs. Projects are garbage-in-garbage-out, low quality inputs generally lead to project failure.

4. Low Quality Decisions

Stakeholders who resist a project tend to make low quality decisions. They may make decisions that make no sense in the context of the project. In some cases, decisions are intentionally intended to shipwreck a project.

5. Delay Tactics

Stakeholders who resist a project tend to seek excuses to delay progress. For example, a stakeholder may identify a long series of dependencies to clear a project issue.

6. Non-acceptance Tactics

Stakeholders who resist a project will look for any excuse to reject project deliverables and product releases. In some cases, a project delivers exactly to requirements, budget and schedule only to have the product rejected. This can be perceived as project failure.

7. All Or Nothing Change

Stakeholders who resist your project may require that your product be all-or-nothing. For example, a sales manager may insist that all sales and sales operations processes be migrated to a new CRM system or the system is unusable.

Stakeholders may do this to delay acceptance of the system. Some stakeholders are also aware the big-bang project approaches are seldom successful.

Organizational Change Management

Organizational change management is the discipline of reducing resistance to change and other change barriers.

Such programs are focused on establishing a culture that's conductive to innovation and change. Culture includes the habits, beliefs, behaviors, norms, symbols, conventions, principles and shared mission of an organization.

Change management teams may be directly involved in projects to help clear resistance to change.

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