change agent competencies for information technology project managers

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Change Agent Competencies for Information Technology Project ManagersKorin A. Kendra Laura J. Taplin Lawrence Technological University The Hawthorne Group

In the past few years, the project management (PM) profession has grown exponentially. Yet recent studies in the information technology (IT) sector have found that the use of PM methodologies alone does not guarantee project success. In fact, IT project success is seen to rely on the ability of project managers to be agents of change (i.e., individuals who lead organizational change efforts), a traditional role of practitioners of organization development and change. This article identies the knowledge, skills, and competencies that are common to organization development (OD) practitioners and project managers, as represented by 6 principles or competencies that OD and PM change methods share: communication, teamwork, process management, leadership, training, and continuous learning. The importance of these 6 principles in developing professional project managers as effective agents of change is explored with the intent of nding means to improve upon current IT project success rates.

It focused on application development projects led by IT project managers and reported a declining number of successful IT projects (i.e., delivered on time and within budget, and met the business requirements) from 37% in 1997 to just 28% in 2000. At the same time, professionalKorin A. Kendra has 16 years of experience in project management and information technology in the automotive and telecommunication industries. She has a doctorate degree from Benedictine University in Organization Development and a masters degree from the University of Michigan in industrial and systems engineering and is a certied Project Management Professional. Kendra is currently a lead project manager in information technology for General Motors. In addition, she is an adjunct professor in the Management Information Systems Masters Program at Lawrence Technological University. Laura J. Taplin is principal of The Hawthorne Group, which provides consulting services in organizational- and individual-level change and development. Her client work focuses on key leverage points in organizational change initiatives such as leadership and issues of trust, respect, and control. She is a graduate of the Pepperdine University Masters of Sciences Organization Development program, holds a PhD in Management and Organization Development from Benedictine University, and earned designation as a certied management consultant. Her current research interests focus on issues of leadership, social control, and justice within participative work contexts. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Korin A. Kendra, 815 South Lafayette, Dearborn, MI 48124, or to Laura J. Taplin, P.O. Box 12, Caledon Village, Ontario L0N 1C0, Canada. E-mail: Korin or

The cost of failed information technology (IT) projects for U.S. companies and government agencies for the year 1997 alone was estimated at $145 billion (Field, 1997). The same study (Field, 1997) concluded that, to successfully meet the business requirements specied by a sponsoring organization, IT projects require (a) use of disciplined project management (PM) methods and (b) development of project teams that work together effectively in dening and meeting a common set of project objectives. Failing this, Field (1997) predicted that the cost of unsuccessful IT projects would continue to escalate over time. A recent Standish Group (2000) study seems to conrm Fields dismal prediction.


Copyright 2004 by the Educational Publishing Foundation and the Society of Consulting Psychology, 1061-4087/04/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/1061-4087.56.1.20 Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, Vol. 56, No. 1, 20 34

membership in the Project Management Institute (PMI) grew 89%, from 37,000 registered members in 1998 (Wilder, Caldwell, & Garvey, 1998) to approximately 70,000 (PMI, 2000b) in 2000. Notwithstanding this rapid growth in the PM profession, project success rates continue to fall and failed project costs continue to rise. As a consequence, organizations have begun to search for new change management methods that offer improved odds of IT project success. These new approaches borrow from the best practices and processes of OD and integrate them into PM (Hill & Collins, 1999; Kerzner, 1998; King, 1996; Nader & Merten, 1998; Shani & Mitki, 1996). Interestingly, the Standish Group (2000) study results revealed that of the 28% of projects that were successful, 97% were found to have had a project manager assigned, whereas 58% had a dened measurement system, and 46% used a PM methodology. The Standish Group (2000) study concluded that the primary reason for the declining project success rate between 1997 and 2000 was a lack of collaborative working relationships (i.e., where trust exists among team members who share responsibility for project success; Herzog, 2001). Despite this conclusion regarding the importance of collaborative working relationships, and the nding that 97% of successful projects had in common an assigned project manager, the Standish Group (2000) report focused instead on the 46% of successful projects that used a PM methodology. It appears that the Standish Group study missed a potentially richer opportunity to explore why IT projects led by project managers had by far the highest rate of project success and how collaborative working relationships contributed to that success. This article aims to extend the Standish Group (2000) study by exploring the roles that OD practitioners play in leading organizational change efforts and that project managers play in leading organizational change efforts in the IT sector. This exploratory research focuses on the OD practitioners and the project managers common

role as change agent (individuals who lead change efforts) and the knowledge, skills, and competencies that they use during organizational change efforts. We begin by reviewing the role of the change agent generally, then briey examine the nature of the OD practitioner role and that of the project manager role, and compare each disciplines view of appropriate preparation for the change agent role. The ndings of the current study identify a common set of principles that is drawn from a review of the existing literature on the respective knowledge and skills requirements associated with the organizational change methods used by the OD practitioner and the project manager in the role of change agent. These change methods include specic OD interventions and PM methodologies (Green, 1989; Jiang, Klein & Margulis, 1998; Melymuka, 2000; Varney et al., 1999; Verma, 1995) that are used by OD practitioners and project managers, respectively. The ndings also draw on existing theoretical models of professional development to formulate a practical model of development for change agents. The suggested professional development model integrates best practices and processes from the two disciplines with the intent of nding a means to help reverse the recent decline in IT project success rates.

The Change Agent RoleA change agent may be dened as a person who is responsible for initiating and maintaining a change effort. Change agents may be part of the client organization but often are not. Bennis (1969) has noted that change agents are for the most part, but not exclusively, external to the client system (p. 12). The reasoning behind this lies in the external change agents ability to affect the organizations power structure in ways that employees as change agents cannot and because they are less subject than employees to implicit and explicit organizational rewards and punishments (Rothwell, Sullivan, & McLean, 1995, p. 10).

Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research Winter 2004


Quinn (1996) described a change agent as a person with high cognitive complexity in thinking about change and high behavioral complexity in the realm of making change. This person understands both the world of business and the world of human relations (p. 5). Quinns denition highlights the need for change agents to develop knowledge and skills from cross-disciplines related to organizational change methods, including an understanding of the change process, of psychology, creativity, group development, decision support systems, leadership, system dynamics, OD, transformation, and strategic change. Bennis (1993) described the change agent role as the integration of social and technical skills. He stated, although they are aware of these three nonpersonal factors (technology, structure, and task) and occasionally focus on them, their main preoccupation is with people and the processes of human interaction (p. 18). His view can be seen to support the premise of this article: IT project managers need to develop and apply cross-disciplinary competencies from both PM and OD to achieve project success. Bennis (1993) dened four competencies for change agents to be successful in helping organizations to achieve effectiveness, improvement, development, and enhancement. In his view, the four essential competencies for success include the following: (a) broad knowledge of the intelligence from the behavioral sciences and theories and methods of change; (b) operational and relational skills, such as the ability to listen, observe, identify, and report, and to form relationships based on trust; (c) sensitivity and maturity, including self-recognition of motivators and the perceptions that others have of these motivators; and (d) authenticity in living and acting in accord with humanistic values. In addition to the change agent competencies described above, Bennis (1993) also found that change agents intervene at different levels of an organization


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