Anatomy of a Bad Rollout: Migraine

Without good project management, your stress levels rises and rollout performance falls!

A technology rollout project manager (PM) wears many hats: they must be an efficient and effective organizer, a masterful communicator, and a determined, creative problem solver.   Just like a maestro conductor, a great PM makes everyone around them perform better, but what if you have a bad one?   You’d better watch out, because you have a headache coming…

And in a rollout covering hundreds – or even thousands – of sites, that headache can be so much worse.  With a poor PM in charge, we’re not talking about a “take a couple of aspirin and feel better in 10 minutes” sort of headache, we’re talking a “full-on, lie down in a darkened room for the rest of the day” migraine!

Whether your rollout PM is in-house, or outsourced to a technology rollout company, you must have strong project management to succeed.  So if you have rollout issues, how do you identify if it’s project management that’s the issue?

How to Diagnose Your Rollout Migraine

Let’s look at the tell-tale symptoms that you have a bad rollout PM.

Symptom #1: The work isn’t getting done

Project management failure can occur as a result of dysfunctional teams or work processes.  For example, the statement of work (SOW) keeps changing, there is pressure to reduce cost, or team members continuously change.  A technology rollout has a huge number of moving parts, so you may have to forgive PM performance if factors beyond their control are causing delays/problems.

But what if a given rollout company’s projects are always overdue?   What if their rollouts never seem to stay on track?  The art of rollout project management is really the art of keeping things moving forward, i.e. always make progress at a good pace, no matter what you run into.

Some people manage to this outcome naturally, but others cannot.  Perhaps the rollout company PM is in over their head, maybe they are disorganized, or they just don’t have a repeatable, scalable methodology to work against.  Regardless of why it happens, the fact that the work never seems to get done is a clear sign that your your rollout company PM can’t get it done.

Symptom #2: Angry Project Stakeholders

Friction between the PM and difficult project stakeholders may not be the PM’s fault.  For example, they may be a hands-off manager, while the customer prefers a high-touch approach.  The good news is that a difference in style can be overcome with the right skills.  If however, the problems are more widespread, or if they seem to cluster around effective communication throughout the project team, the most likely cause is the PM.

Here’s a clue: when good, competent people, connected to your project in different roles express frustration, confusion, or even anger, there’s an underlying problem.  Watch them for negative body language or tone of voice, or even back-channel conversation about how the rollout is being managed.  This may be seen in customer staff, or external participants such as vendors.

Symptom #3: Rollout Problems are Never Isolated Incidents

You may give your rollout PM a pass if they are just the latest person to be handed a “landmine” problem that nobody else has been able to figure out.  You also can’t immediately blame them if they are the fourth person in a year to be given one of those “orphan” rollouts that seems to have been running forever.

However, if your rollout PM is a poor manager, the chances are high that you’ll see symptoms #1 and #2 again and again.  And the clincher is when you even see them on brand-new, well-resourced projects.  When you see that, the only common factor is your rollout company PM, so you know you have to do something.

Identifying the Root Cause

There are three main root causes for rollout project management problems:

1. Controlling Rather Than Managing

Being PM for a large scale technology rollout is a major job, but the PM doesn’t have to personally own every single aspect of the project.  They must be able to orchestrate the entire team to deliver an harmonious, successful rollout.

Here’s a good test.  If an urgent discussion is needed with the vendor of the technology to be deployed, it’s essential that the PM manages the situation to ensure the right outcome.  Assuming the rollout company has a scalable team structure in their model, this means that the PM should delegate a project facilitator (PF)  to attend the actual meeting, rather than attend themselves.

A good PM has an instinct for when to get into the details of an issue and when to delegate to their trusted second in command, so that they can focus on maintaining overall rollout pace and quality.

2. Unnecessary Focus on “Busy-work”

In a multi-site technology rollout, everyone’s schedule is crazy, and PMs often have it worst.  That said, it can be easy to turn “busy-ness” into a crutch to support poor working practices.

Because the PM must communicate with all stakeholders – especially the customer – they need an approach that emphasizes direct communication.  This raises rollout quality by minimizing the chance of mistranslation and therefore, expensive site revisits.  It also makes efficient use of the teams’ time by avoiding the need for endless meetings to get them on the same page.  If your rollout PM can’t work this way, they are the wrong person for the job.

3. The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger Effect means trouble for any rollout, and must be addressed as soon as it’s detected.  If you’re not familiar with this phenomenon, Dunning and Kruger were psychologists who studied workplace competence — particularly a person’s perception of their own competence.

Rollout PMs suffering from Dunning-Kruger Effect are “unconsciously incompetent.” That is, they can’t do the work well, but they think they’re doing just fine.  (Contrast this with the best companies, who are always seeking ways to measure effectiveness and improve.)

When you encounter a PM – person or team – with Dunning-Kruger, immediately do whatever is required to make a change.  This helps your organization, and also has an immediate, positive impact on your rollout by removing a factor that negatively impacts everyone else’s performance.

Can Bad Project Management Be Cured?

If your PM is an in-house resource and you don’t want to take the “nuclear option” of removing them, a good idea is to give them a PM Mentor.  Engage a reputable  technology rollout company and have them work alongside your PM.  Mentoring should focus on the following areas:

Changing the PM’s Approach

The PM has to avoid getting stuck in the weeds.  As rollout leader, they must be able to see – and manage to – the big picture.  Focus them on viewing the rollout details and schedule in the context of the business goals: this is not just a list of tasks, dates and deliverables – they really mean something to the success of the business.  The PM needs to become a project management maestro, tasked with orchestrating and conducting a successful rollout, not just being another performer.

Emphasizing Listening

The PM must notice when people say, “I don’t understand” or “Why is this issue coming up again?”   Even more important, they must be willing to hit the brakes when they realize communication has broken down.  To put things simply, the best PMs listen and the worst ones don’t.  Your PM might not like to do it, but they must make time to listen to project stakeholders, or chances are, your rollout will fail.

The Bottom Line: Don’t Sacrifice Your Rollout to Save Your PM

If none of this solves the problem, things are probably worse than you think and it’s time to reevaluate things.  Good rollouts do not happen by accident: it takes skilled PM practitioners working at lightning speed to deliver the great experience that you and your customers expect.  To achieve this, look for a rollout company with a proven track record of sustained good performance.

The good news is that there are great rollout companies out there.  Talk to them about the issues you’ve encountered, and ask them how they would manage through them.  If you don’t like their response, talk to us.

We’d love to tell to you about the experiences we have gained from hundreds of thousands of technology rollouts over two decades.  The proof of that approach is shown by our 99.78% “Done Right First Time” performance, as well as our industry-leading high customer satisfaction.  Every successful rollout we deliver, is a testament to our strong methodology, our great people, and the corporate values they adhere to.