WHY MAN CITY WILL LOSE THE TITLE (OR WHY CHANGE PROJECTS FAIL!)

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Following on from last week, despite my comments, it was City who got the upper hand in the Manchester derby. However, despite the result on Monday, with Manchester United still 12 points clear in the Premier League with only seven games to play, it’s almost a certainty that City will lose the title they won for the first time in 44 years last season.

So much has been written about why already.  City manager, Roberto Mancini, has promised spectacular signings in the summer, having said that missed signings, most notably Robin Van Persie, who favoured United over City, cost them the title.  More insightful was a recent article by Jan Molby, who observed that while City have some great players, they are not as cohesive a team as United.  Mancini has not managed squad rotation as well as Ferguson, with United players generally slotting in.  United have a talented squad but it is their ability to function as a team and grind out results, even when not playing their best, that has proved a significant difference.

Functioning as a cohesive team, of course, only comes with plenty of work on the training pitch and the team’s management being able to communicate a vision of what they want from the players in that context.

So, if it’s not obvious why is this relevant to change projects?  There are a number of different areas to look at (not prioritised):

Blame

Blame is a consistent symptom of failure – people looking elsewhere to attribute falling short.  This focuses on one issue and usually distracts from addressing the real issues that have led to failure.  There are normally a series of contributory factors and determining where improvements can be made across the team.  In contrast British Cycling’s Dave Brailsford talks about marginal gains, where they are looking for small improvements across all factors that contribute to performance.

Team Cohesion

I worked with one programme director a few years ago, who’s view of how you get a high performing team was to pull all the best high performing individuals from across the organisation.  That may give you a bunch of very bright people but unless you can get them to work as a team they will fail.  Greece at Euro 2004 are a stark reminder of what a well organised team can achieve, winning the tournament as 80-1 outsiders at the start of the tournament.

Vision

This should really come before the last heading but without having a vision of how a team will perform and regularly communicating this to the team there is no uncertainty – they will fail.  Of all the change projects we have recovered over the years, one common characteristic is not the lack of vision but the failure to keep communicating it out to all those involved.

Organisational Denial

As blame distracts from true causes, in directive organisational cultures bad news rarely travels back to senior managers (of course in Premier League football it is all too visible).  How often do project managers rate projects green or amber when they should be amber or red. Without acknowledging problems they don’t get solved.

Lack of Long Term Accountability

Football management is a harsh profession.  Sir Alex Ferguson’s lengthy tenure at Manchester United is rare but security has come as a result of continued success.  Mancini joined Manchester City in December 2009 and there has been talk of replacement this season, given the demands for success from their wealthy Arab owners. In senior technology positions tenure can similarly be a tenuous thing, while the tenure of CIOs may average five years, in wholesale banking this has been significantly lower.  Much has been written about the culture and mentality of the team at Manchester United (whoever is playing), it is clearly difficult to make significant cultural changes without the lengthy tenure that Ferguson has had.  However, over the long term one can also build toxic cultures, so beware!;

Of course, there’s been much written about project failure and there are many other reasons, if you want to read further symptoms of failing projects that we’ve encountered see  http://on-court.com/failing_projects.html – I’d love to get more feedback on other symptoms/factors that people have observed.

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