In the last of their series on Responsible Project Management, Karen Thompson and Nigel Williams discuss the steps Project, Programme and Portfolio Managers might take to begin implementation in their own organisations. This series of blogs draws on the discussions that have taken place with many individuals and organisations, culminating in the signing of the Manifesto for Responsible Project Management in Bournemouth on 3rd July 2019. The Manifesto is available at www.ResponsiblePM.com and has already been translated into Spanish, French and Italian and is being used in Universities and companies across Europe.
Responsible Project Management is about taking responsibility for beneficial change. Beneficial change such as projects that meet the SDGs are outcomes that can only be achieved by Project Managers taking responsibility with others. This new Manifesto is a call for project professionals to become advocates for beneficial change by expanding their roles to think through the medium and long-term consequences of projects they are involved in, and by encouraging better project decision-making at all levels.
We are in no doubt that challenging conventional thinking is not easy. We understand that the conventional role of Project Management is shaped by a technical, optimisation view of management in which Project Managers deliver projects that are largely defined by others. Responsible Project Management recognises the economic, societal and environmental context of projects, and the human dimensions whereby values and choices underpin our actions.
Project Managers already have many of the skills needed to facilitate difficult discussions, identify knowledge gaps and to ask difficult questions. We are used to bringing together diverse stakeholders and negotiating complex solutions at multiple stages in a given project. Responsible Project Managers will require new knowledge and new skills. They will need to be a facilitator more than a director, will engage by listening more than talking, and will appreciate a wide range of perspectives on the project’s purpose.
Three important learnings about communication have been shared with us. First, we need to take project communication to where stakeholders are, rather than expecting them to search for information about the project. Second, project communication needs to be two-way. Project teams need to actively seek out new external information and invite feedback continuously. Thirdly, meetings are essentially social events so Project Managers need to a) hold pre-meetings to understand the issues, b) use meetings to build consensus (rather than expecting complex decisions to be made), and c) follow-up with individual communication to convert decisions into actions.
Here are ten steps that you can take to begin implementing Responsible Project Management within your own organisation identify and understand the purposes underpinning a project from different perspectives. To a traditional list of four stakeholder groups – investors, users, partners and staff – we have added the environment and society, making six stakeholder groups.
- Develop your understanding, and raise awareness among others, of the impacts and consequences of a project.
- Look forward and think through to the end of the project, and beyond, and provide opportunities for others to do so.
- Engage with a wide range of stakeholders, look for shared ground and promote common interests. Organisations such as Arup, on the Heathrow Terminal 5 project for example, ensure that the interests of the community and environment are represented on the project board.
- Be curious, uncover and address ethical complexity, conflict and unintended outcomes. Ask questions and be aware of the limits of knowledge.
- Recognise where there is uncertainty or a lack of understanding. Encourage clarity and sharing of new knowledge as it emerges.
- Anticipate changes. When change occurs, identify and evaluate options, and promote informed decision-making.
- Understand where creativity is needed. Make space and time for imagination and innovation. To increase creativity: go outside, hold a walking meeting or take time out to challenge your team in a game.
- Foster transparency and sharing of visions, thoughts and feelings among stakeholders. Formal meetings may not be the best place for this, so plan for social interaction.
- Encourage stewardship of human and environmental resources and ethical considerations. Promote regenerative approaches, using ideas from the Circular Economy, avoid consuming finite resources, damaging pollution and waste.
- Seek balance between the needs of people, the planet and profit, over the short, medium and long term.
We are developing a range of resources to support implementation of Responsible Project Management and further research, along with all the signatories to the Manifesto. We are collecting and will share case studies of help with implementing Responsible Project Management and are developing a set of FAQs and rebuttals to frequent objections.
We would like to take this opportunity to express our thanks to all the project professionals, academics and students (many more than in the photo) who have contributed to developing and refining the concept and who have provided support for the work to date.
Please join our Facebook Group called Responsible Project Management, visit the website
and share your own case studies and stories.
Join Karen and Nigel for a 60 minute ZOOM Live session to explore the Responsible Project Management Manifesto between 12.30 and 13.30 BST on Tuesday 23rd July.
More in the Blog Series
Dr. Karen Thomson is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Strategy, and Organizations and Dr. Nigel L. Williams is a Senior Lecturer in Project Management, both at Bournemouth University. Together they are two of the leading forces behind the University’s Responsible Project Management concept.