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Too busy fighting the war with bows and arrows to buy a rifle?

John Howarth

"Too busy fighting the war with bows and arrows to buy a rifle?" is one of my favourite sayings, and although it is an old one, I still think it has plenty of applicability in this day and age to the way we manage the programmes and projects in our portfolios of change.

Busy

“I’m flat out”

“I’m under the pump”

“We’ll need to reschedule”

If you are working in the world of programmes and projects you will be all too familiar with these phrases and what goes with them – long hours, the feeling of being overwhelmed, the feeling that you are not on top of things and that life is racing along and you do not have the time to do anything properly.  This is the modern working environment.  A world full of pressure and challenges and not enough time to deal with them.

Bows and Arrows

So what is our response to this environment?  My observation is that it is fairly chaotic, and under pressure, many of us revert to ‘bows and arrows’ to run our change initiatives.  Let me give you some examples.

Email

The weapon of choice for many.  You can create them at all times of day and night, pack them full of what you think needs to happen and then fire them into the unsuspecting crowd.

Impromptu meetings

Actually meetings is a generous term.  Accidental discussions might be closer to the mark.  Someone raises a matter, and the manager says “right, lets have the conversation now” and pulls whichever team members happen to be in the vicinity into the room to “sort things out”.  Two hours later and you have a full whiteboard which will serve as the plan for the next couple of weeks.  Or at least until the next impromptu meeting.

Templates

Those who know me or read my blogs regularly will know that I have hit this one many times before, but I think it bears repetition.  Are you unable to make things happen in your organisation?  The easy answer is to sit in a corner and spend a couple of weeks filling in a template that paints the perfect picture of what you would like to see happen.

And why do we work this way?  “Because we don’t have enough time for all that project management stuff. It just creates an overhead and paperwork and I need to press on and get the job done”.  Then off the project warrior goes into the fray, firing off emails, holding impromptu meetings and filling in templates.

Rifles

I am no weapons expert, but my understanding of a rifle is that there are a few key elements such as,  

  • Training – you need to know how to use it.
  • Loading – there is a brief but important sequence of things you need to do before the rifle is ready.
  • Aiming – making sure you are pointing it at the right thing.

I would like to suggest that the Cabinet Office frameworks Management of Portfolios (MoP), Managing Successful Programmes (MSP), PRINCE2 and Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices (P3O) can serve as well aimed rifles for the delivery of change – if you are trained, and spend time on the brief but important sequence of activities involved in definition/initiation.

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