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"To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail." - Mark Twain

To everyone with a hammer

“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

So says Mark Twain. 

A hammer, like any tool is not the most appropriate for every job, but if that’s all you have, you are likely to try and fix everything with it without considering other options. Most people prefer to change the work to fit what they have instead of looking for the best way to do things. 

And so it is with the world of change and specifically with project delivery! 

Projects and change initiatives have a habit of not fully delivering on their objectives while statistics vary wildly on the subject. Oftentimes coming in late and de-scoped, with others arriving on time but leaving a trail of stress and dissatisfaction in their wake behind the ‘hero’ sponsor or project manager. At the level of the portfolio, it proves difficult to make changes to mid-flight projects to enable a refocus of budget and resources on to investments with higher risk or greater opportunity for return. Determining the viability of the portfolio for the following year and making a fast start in January also seems to be a challenge. 

Usually when clients ask for help on any of these or other delivery related problems, what they expect as the solution is typically one of new process, often systematised, a new methodology or highly competent project managers adopting with a certain accreditation…..

Yet, over the previous years, you discover that the process, the improved technology and the skills route has been tried before. So if you keep getting what you always got by keeping doing the same as you always did, why do you? 

There is no doubt that hammers are useful tools, and so it is with standard project methodologies and finely tuned processes and systems. But what really enables change to be delivered is the right leadership driving a culture of support and learning, ensuring decisions are being made effectively with the right balance between speed and data. Without it, you continue to fine tune what you know and get the problem to fit your view of the solution, all the while avoiding the elephant in the room.

Dealing with the behaviours of leadership and helping them understand how they do what they do, how they engage and with who, how they empower or otherwise, has a fundamental impact on delivery success. 

  • Does leadership in the organisation listen to and works with their project teams to identify risks, challenges and solutions to drive towards effective outcomes?
  • Is there is a culture of transparency and support when challenges are faced in respect to effective project delivery?
  • Is there is a culture of empowerment to make decisions individuals feel are in the best interests of the project?
  • Are individual mistakes treated as learning opportunities and are not penalised where they have been made on an informed and competent basis?
  • Is there is a record of high adoption across the organisation to change in ways of working?

If in general your answers are not fully positive, then you may need to consider addressing or otherwise accepting that you need more than a hammer.