Making a Success of a New Methodology

People often ask me: “How can we introduce a project management methodology into our organisation?”  And I interpret this as meaning that the methodology should be usable, useful and also used.  After all, a methodology is not an end in itself, unless for zealots, nor a doctrine or a dogma, except for bigots.

1) Make the process attractive by aligning with people’s motivations

In order to make a process or a methodology successful, i.e. workable, worthwhile and working, there’s one key word of advice: First, make it pleasant and attractive to use, and avoid it being laborious or painful.

Most organisations seek to maximise gain and to target effectiveness, but organisms also seek to minimise pain and to avoid calamities.  It is in fact most effective to reduce the pain and to ensure that the methodology is gratifying to use and creates a sense of fulfilment.   

Sales people may recognise the reference to the “pain chain”, which is a way to identify and to respond to the pain felt at different levels in an organisation.  How can this be done?

First of all, to appreciate the sources of pain it is helpful to understand the nature of motivation, and above all the factors that lead to demotivation:

Results-driven and Action-oriented motivation

People in projects are clearly motivated by the desire to achieve results and very frequently it is their prime motivation.  This also means avoiding failure, because although we reason in terms of the number of projects that succeed, projects can go wrong in so many different ways, and furthermore the project portfolio can disappoint in very many ways.  

For example, the point in time when a project fails is a vital consideration.  There is all the difference in the world between a project that gets stopped early at little cost and one that fails after significant investment.  And even when the sunk cost is important, there may yet be lessons learned for future projects.  

The priorities within projects and between projects also make a significant difference.  It may be better for one project to be delivered late, but with all the deliverables intact, whilst another may sacrifice the least important deliverables because it must absolutely be finished in time.  Similarly, an organisation may prefer several projects to be slightly late, rather than one project being very late, whilst another prefers to abandon one project to allow the others to finish on time.

For a methodology to be successful, people must want to use it, they need to feel a sense of ownership and they must believe that it will improve the quality of their work and allow work to become more enjoyable.  

Relationship-pulled and Change-pushed motivation

Many people are attracted by the relational aspects of projects, the opportunities to work with colleagues and experts from different departments and backgrounds, to have close contact with decision makers in the company, and to work with customers and suppliers.  

Nevertheless, whilst people appreciate intense teamwork at times, too many meetings are tiring. People need some time for themselves in order to be comfortable and productive.  Therefore, by removing the causes of stress – such as isolation and exhaustion – that can derive from too little or too much interaction, the methodology can be made much more serviceable and durable.

Furthermore, one of the main causes of stress is the feeling of not having control over events, circumstances or process. Participants are more likely to appreciate the process when they are empowered to simplify or to adjust the details of the methodology according to the specific aspects of their project.  For example, some projects are focused on customers, others on suppliers; some are change pushed, and others market pulled, and so on.

In any case, a methodology can be easier to apprehend, to assimilate and to apply if there is a simplified version that puts all participants on the same page at a high level, a sort of red line through the process containing only the permanent elements, which could be kept to a strict minimum.

Technology-focused and Ideas-centred motivation

People are attracted to the technology in projects, to the chance to do something new and different from their routine activities, to innovate, to experiment and to develop ideas into action.  If they feel that they spend too much project time on paperwork and administrative tasks, energy and enthusiasm subsides quickly.  Bureaucracy is perceived as being either a necessary evil or an unnecessary burden becomes it imposes control and constraints; it dissipates innovation and enervates.

The motivation to develop ideas and to share knowledge can be stifled by mistrust. Excessive control communicates lack of trust.  At the same time, creative people must comprehend that the process of discovery and innovation is predisposed to all kinds of errors and false assumptions, including those that can be prevented by rigorous checking and review.  It is about getting the right balance, and ensuring that people respect and value the inspection, validation and verification, and acceptance process that lie within any project methodology.

An attractive methodology should not waste people’s time, force them to spend time looking for stuff, trying to understand the interface, correcting errors, linking incompatible formats, trying to understand a system’s reasoning instead of using one’s intuition, sitting through interminable screens, waiting whilst menus advertise themselves, re-editing or inputting information over and over again, explaining what one has done instead of this being evident from the data, learning someone else’s coding structure. In two words: “Good design” is essential for good methodology.

Structure-based and Process-leaning motivation

A methodology provides structure, facilitates organisation, enables the participants of a project to work fluently and fluidly together, to achieve synergy and to synchronise their contributions. Thus the methodology can help to generate order and to demonstrate control.  However, a failure to implement a convoluted and complicated process can be profoundly disturbing because instead it creates the impression of a lack of control.

It is important that the evidence for the methodology being used is made visible.  Methods in action should not be invisible.  Some of the performance indicators can be results-oriented, such as the status of deliverables, but others should be process-driven such as test coverage and depth of testing. The most important indicators, such as the opinions and understanding of the team members, are not usually the most measurable.  

Ideally, the status of the process, the extent to which it is being applied and the results that are being achieved should all be as visible as the pie-charts, histograms and work-charts in a factory.


2) Work with pioneers to create credibility for the new methodology

There is only one way to ensure credibility for a methodology and that is to show that it works.  Since, the methodology cannot be working already, before it has been introduced, this means that a credible reference is needed.  The most credible reference is in the same company, the same type of project, the same kind of team and in the same country.  More likely and more often, this does not exist, because we have to start somewhere.  Therefore we usually find ourselves looking for a credible reference outside the company and even outside the industry or outside the country. 

The first users of a methodology, which is new to the company, or to the industry or the country, or even the world, are necessarily pioneers and they must act as champions of the new approach.  Their defining characteristic is that they are not concerned about where the methodology has worked before.  They are founders and innovators.  They believe in the merits of the methodology, they believe in its potential and above all they believe in their own ability to make the methodology a success.

Pioneers need support.  Their stakeholders and they themselves may be results-oriented, relationships-driven, technology focused and ideas-centred or structure-based.  They are vulnerable to disillusion if their motivations are not satisfied and their fears are raised.  Although they expect problems on the route to success, their moral can go up and down quite wildly and yet they do not want to reveal this, because they have a leadership spirit. 

Pioneers should choose their projects carefully.  In essence, to be a pioneer is to enjoy the process of overcoming the problems.  To be a pioneer is to tread a new path and to cut a way through the undergrowth. But, not every initiative will be successful. And supporters are necessary, because support demonstrates that despite all of the impediments and the issues, success is signposted.  Pioneers recognise that first time is not easy, but first time is worthwhile because to be ahead is to win the game. 

Supporters can be executive sponsors, suppliers, customers, expert consultants and supporters can be part of a grassroots movement.  Thus supporters can be both from inside or outside the organisation and support can be both top-down and bottom-up.

Supporters should also choose their pioneers carefully.  More initiatives will be abandoned than will be adopted.  This is the nature of innovation.  Therefore, it’s better to take small steps, and to check the way ahead before continuing. In this way, the right initiatives are continued and the wrong ones are terminated early. 

3) Enable pioneering work to become mainstream

For “new-stream” to become “main-stream” the pioneers and the supporters of the pioneers must convince the early-adopters.  And the early-adopters must be convinced that the methodology is appropriate and credible. This requirs success on the first steps that are championed by the pioneers to be successful and to be supported. For example, there must be a suitable pilot project and a transitional hand-over period.  

The pilot project should be appropriately typical and it should also be suitably challenging so that people do not just say, “It would have been successful anyway, without the methodology.” The early majority desire that impediments should be removed and issues resolved.  Unlike the pioneers they do not relish problems and challenges for their own sake.  Naturally, they will seek to avoid the pain of failure.

The early-adopters will requir relevant evidence, data, information and confirmation that the approach has worked elsewhere.  They may be convinced by information from the same industry, or by examples from people doing the same kind of work and speaking the same language. The late-majority just wants the methodology to work and with minimum hassle.

By the time the laggards admit that they really ought to become involved, the methodology has become a reality and a success story.  The laggards will be seeking adaptations and customisation.  In a sense they are obliging the mainstream to prepare for the next round of innovation.  Some laggards may even be pioneers in the next cycle.

4) Making it stick

The methodology will not take root, flourish and grow unless these criteria are satisfied:


- The methodology is pleasant to use and appeals to the motivations of stakeholders


- The methodology meets people’s primary motivation to avoid painful outcomes

- Suitable and motivated pioneers become engaged and receive adequate support

- The majority observes evidence of success that satisfies their motivational criteria

- There is visible evidence of success being achieved and motivations satisfied






Who can promote or make contributions?

Who must we “sell” on this project?

Who can help us to get additional resources?

Who will benefit?



What do we need by way of additional resources?

What techniques or methods can I use?

What is the best way to go about this?

What will be the first step?

What will make the project better?



Where should we start?

Where is resistance likely to be found?

Where should we “plant” seeds?



When should we introduce the plan?

When should we implement our ideas?

When should we revise our strategy?



Why should they buy this idea?

Why is this way better?

Why is the reaction what it is?



How can the project be improved?

How can we “test” the waters?

How can we better understand and respond to people’s questions?

How can we persuade people at the centres of influence? : Ian Stokes, Project Leader and Advisor

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