by Guest Blogger – Michelle Thompson

I recently gave a talk at a Project Management conference about the changes which have occurred in the industry and how Project Managers need to change to deliver great outcomes as a result. During my talk I was challenged by a man who didn’t feel the profession had changed at all, that we’ve always managed projects the same way and why should we do anything different now?

I was taken aback by the statement. I was sure things had changed and I rattled off a few changes I’d personally seen over the last 10 years or so. But after this I got to thinking – why could I see these changes but some others couldn’t? I came to two conclusions.

  1. Change is hard to see when you are in the middle of it.
  2. Change is particularly hard to see for detail oriented people.

Change is hard to see when you are in the middle of it.

This seems obvious, but consider this analogy. For anyone who has young children, over the space of a week or two you don’t tend to look at them and think, ‘wow, you’ve grown or changed’. However, look back at photos you took a year or two ago and you can see the fact that they have changed. Relate this to the story above – the man who felt things hadn’t changed in the project management industry. He didn’t feel that in his career working on projects that things had changed. But take a step back in time and consider how people managed projects in the past – Hoover Dam or The Transcontinental Railway – slave labour, budgets put aside for fatalities, no significance put on the health or safety of workers… If we did the same projects now, would we manage them the same way? Absolutely not! So as a profession, we’ve definitely changed. But it is hard to see when you’re in it.

Change is particularly hard to see for detail oriented people.

Some of us are ‘big picture’ people – those who see things holistically and thinking in terms of concepts and the future. Others are better at the detail – seeing the exacts of what needs to be done there and now. We all use both these skills to some level, but most people definitely seem to prefer one of these styles to the other. For people very much swayed to the detail side of things, it is hard for them sometimes to take that step back and see the big picture. For that reason, they find it harder to see change because most change (especially in regards to an industry, culture or society) is observed over a long period of time and is hard to see if you’re focussed on the day-to-day.

This can create challenges – if people don’t see change there is a tendency to think ‘things have always been this way’ and ‘nothing will ever change’. This makes implementing improvements to a business, culture or industry very challenging because there is a resistance to change from those that don’t feel it is possible.

So how do we deal with this?

  1. Show them the big picture – how things have changed over time and how our actions do make a difference.
  2. For details people, give them the detail! Tell them the specifics of what was done to enable these things to happen and how it worked.
  3. If you are trying to implement change, have a big picture plan of what you are trying to achieve and the detail for how you will do it. Get the details people to do what they’re good at and assist with developing the detail to help achieve buy-in.
  4. Don’t give up. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.