In the AXELOS White Paper "The impact of behaviour on project delivery", independent consultant Ann Cheung says that behaviour impacts "every aspect" of project delivery.
She recommends project and programme management practitioners getting to grips with behavioural science to harness the right behaviours and minimize the wrong behaviours. In this blog post, she explains why and how.
The list of causes for programme and project failure is based on insufficient or ineffective action, related directly to people’s behaviour.
Despite that fact, the issue of behaviour in the PPM environment is not explicitly taken seriously enough. This could be because it’s considered “fluffy”. And how progress is made in PPM is taken for granted without true recognition that it’s the regular and consistent use of the right behaviours that gets things done.
Practitioners may acknowledge concepts such as respect and accountability, but there are a range of behaviours that enable those abstract things to become a reality. It’s crucial to pinpoint the precise behaviours to convey, for example, “respect” because different people have different interpretations of what that means.
There is a need to drill down into a more objective, unequivocal examination of what behaviours are needed.
How much do you know about behaviour?
Major clients today are specifying the types of behaviours they want from suppliers and stipulate that project teams will conduct themselves in a certain way. And so behavioural elements are appearing alongside technical elements in the procurement process. Clients, prompted by bad experiences in the past, are now less tolerant of behavioural issues which they didn’t expect to see when hiring the team but which ultimately had an impact on PPM success.
Knowing about the importance of behaviour isn’t doing. A practitioner can be interested and read up about it but that might not translate into adopting the right behaviour or managing it in others. PPM frameworks and approaches should have the “how” as well as the what in terms of the behaviours practitioners need, but often don’t address this fully. Even in post-project reviews the issue of behaviour is rarely considered, though problems are not uncommon.
Unfortunately, many practitioners don’t have the skills to address behavioural issues: it can be an unholy mix of amateur psychology and making value judgements about people. Behavioural management needs to be a constant, with the right approaches to encourage the right behaviours and minimize the wrong behaviours.
Organizations that want to achieve long-term, sustainable success are the ones thinking about how to respond to behavioural challenges now.
Behavioural science versus “command and control”
Traditionally, management has been hierarchical; but taking a behavioural science approach is more about the leader setting a vision and creating the environment for the whole team to perform to the best of their abilities and maximize the effectiveness of their personal contribution to the project’s success.
Developing and coaching people to perform better is founded on the leader providing reinforcement for the work they’re doing, getting support and the necessary resources, removing obstacles and helping progress.
And this requires people to understand behavioural science and the key tools available. While it takes time to learn and apply it in every-day situations, in the long term it’s a more effective method that can be used again and again.
Behavioural science focuses on an objective appraisal of behaviour: in other words, the external things you can observe people saying and doing.
How can you begin to learn and apply these techniques?
- Read up about it and develop your own understanding of it
- Trial it – using it on yourself or close friends/family – a low risk option without trying to fix the whole world all at once
- Get comfortable and confident enough to introduce it to project delivery situations.
People can be nervous about “behaviour management” as it can be seen as manipulative. But behavioural science is working on what’s tangible and objective, i.e. what they, or you, say or do.
Read the full AXELOS White Paper "The impact of behaviour on project delivery" for more information.
Have you found behavioural science techniques useful when managing and delivering projects and programmes? Have you found that individuals' and teams' behaviour directly affects their performance as part of a work package? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments box below.