Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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Does your project management service go to 11?

I asked this question of a client recently. She has engaged me to give their people the ‘soft skills’ (in reality, the hard stuff to change) they need to be able to consistently meet the expectations of their stakeholders. I wanted to know how those same stakeholders felt about the project management service they receive, so it seemed a reasonable question to ask, especially in light of the fact that this particular client is a fan of comedy movies.

Are the PMs role models for others? Do they spend time thinking of their communication approach? Are they consistently asking for feedback and actively involving the team in the decision-making required throughout a project? Do they celebrate success and make problem-solving fun?

‘Does your project management service go to 11?’ I asked.

In the 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (brilliantly played by Christopher Guest) excitedly points out to the documentary maker name Marty Di Bergi (real life director Rob Reiner) a Marshall amp that the band own. This particular amp is unique. ‘Most amps’, Nigel explains, ‘go to 10. But this one is very special because if you can see [points to dials] the numbers all go to 11. If we need that extra push over the cliff, we put it up to 11.’

As individuals, we are all capable of so much and the project management profession should be at the forefront of organisational transformation, striving to make the service the best that it can possibly be. Be a little bit more special. Be that little bit different. Be that little bit more memorable for all the right reasons.

And yet, while we continue to measure project managers on the very things that change throughout the life of a project – time and cost – and not the thing that shouldn’t change – stakeholder experience – taking the service to 11 will always be the last thing on most people’s list.

Yes projects should always be managed to a plan (time and cost), but measuring project managers on this often forces them to become intransigent, reactive and direct, at a time when flexibility, empathy and level-headedness are required to keep morale high and progress on track.

For most project managers, the only time they seek feedback on the service they’re providing is at the end of a project during the completion of the lessons learned report. By this stage, however, most have made the same mistakes again and the lessons haven’t been learned. Such is the irony of the lessons not learned report.

To change the behaviours of a project manager you need to give them the insights into what great looks like, then change the way you measure and manage them.

Every project management development program should measure the service being provided before it is run, then again after the program has been completed. That way you ensure that those being developed put into practice what they’ve learned and you create a new level of expectation to manage them to.

Every year project management surveys are released detailing the 15 or more reasons for project failure, when in reality there are only two: poor project sponsorship and poor project management.

These two problems can be spotted and dealt with quickly by regularly asking your stakeholders (project team included) about the service both are providing. The information gained can be actioned almost immediately and confidence regained.

ProjectNPS uses the Net Promoter Score (NPS) approach to do just this and provide organisations with a benchmark of what good looks like. The net promoter score is now the industry standard way of capturing the detail of the experience the customer has had and allowing them to score it on an eleven-point scale of 0-10.

Australian telecom provider iiNet is one such user of the NPS system. iiNet’s CEO Michael Malone states in this interview that a 1-point increase in their NPS equalled an A$1.6 million increase in net profit after tax. He also explained that iiNet’s customer service team is its “heroes” and claims that a 0.1% improvement in customer churn added up to 20% recurring improvement in sales.

Whilst this statistic is for external sales, imagine what the same approach does for internal stakeholder confidence, a commitment to ongoing behavioural change and to the evolution of your culture?

As Tom Peters said in his book The Brand 50: “Client service is an hourly, daily, explicitly top priority.”

I use ProjectNPS for all my programs to measure the experience being provided before project managers are developed and then again once those same people have had the insights into what it takes to get to 11.

Development programs without accountability mean more of the same service and a repeat of the mistakes we’ve been making for the last 15 years.

Most project managers have the opportunity to make it to 10, but getting to 11 is the goal. What are you doing to take your project management service to 11?

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