Managing resistances during the implementation of change – a used case from a Large Pharma Company

Recently, while upgrading PMO at a large pharma client, we came across a situation where existing team resisted the intervention despite the senior management’s keenness in upgrading the PMO.
As part of the assessment of existing level, we wanted some basic information on the functionality being managed by the PMO. The PMO did not provide the information. Resistances included, requirement of changing the language of organization’s standard Non-Disclosure Agreement, passing incorrect information during discussions and subsequently denying, deflecting – by insisting that the issues if any are with other departments, insisting that PMO is only a victim and the agencies responsible for delays and cost overruns are not questioned for several reasons etc. The PMO leadership-controlled communication by not allowing us to interact with other members of the PMO team.
It was obvious that all responses/efforts of existing team were to avoid external intervention. The production cycles and normal BAU activities of this aggressive organization kept their top executives too busy to get involved on regular basis.
We followed a professional approach of managing resistances by establishing 2-way communication by (details of the approach can be accessed from my book ‘Transform and Thrive – A step-by-step guide for successful execution of organizational transformation projects and programs )
1. Identifying key stakeholders, understanding their communication styles and needs and established required communication to ensure that they can be involved as and when required. Special attention is paid to the fact that the PMO team is not threatened.
2. Promoting benefits of intervention, allying perceived threats by challenging rumors and speculations, provided used cases with benefits the other companies achieved
3. Using referent and expert leadership styles
4. Giving the PMO team the required time. Understanding the organization’s priorities and delivery cycles of routine production and correct time to intervene
5. We Kept a precise and clear record of all important communications so that no key stakeholder was misled. We sent the questionnaire, the information required by emails.
6. We maintained continuous follow-up and kept the required leadership informed of the progress from our end. What we did not do
1. Use corrective leadership style. We were engaged by the top management, 2 steps above the PMO. We did not use authority through the top management
2. Used unnecessary time pressure on PMO.
Finally, as anticipated the PMO team started responding. The reasons for initial resistances were
1. Processes for many functions were never developed. The legacy ways of ad-hoc working continued despite phenomenal growth.
2. Where processes existed, they were not updated
3. Investment in Enterprise Project Management Software was made, but never used
4. Documentation/ standards were not developed
5. The skill levels were very basic
6. The existing team was worried about their ignorance being made visible to the management
7. Though the top management did realize that overall production can be increased, but PMO had no roadmap for growth and was defensive by justifying that existing skill levels were adequate.
We looked for/created opportunities and took complete advantages
1. To connect with the team members/project managers in the team. We defined the benefits of the intervention at each level. We also defined the benefits PMO will be getting by the intervention for example realignment of PMO organization structure from ‘week matrix’ to ‘strong matrix’
2. To address issues of functional managers, who shared responsibility for project delays and were unhappy with firefighting processes, wanted better forecast and resource allocation processes and wanted a clear RACI matrix to be defined
3. To demonstrate the use of tools, its ease, and benefit. Showcasing how accurate reports can directly be taken from the tools without waiting for others to provide information.
Within three months, we moved PMO status from ‘Startup’ to ‘Functional’. Approx. 10% increase in efficiency in terms of speed of completion of projects and availability of resources was achieved. The team is now cooperating well and 2 of the team members are change agents.
We are asked to take the PMO to next level – ‘Mature’ and show another 10% improvement in next 3 months.
Introduction of every new drug, cost/process optimization of earlier drugs etc. are handled as projects. The life cycle of one project can range from 6 months to 2 years. Large Pharma companies embark 100s of such projects at one time. 20% increase in efficiency, gives this company a huge competitive edge in the market which is worth many times the spent on establishing an effective and vibrant PMO.
As professional project management consultants, we deal with such situations on regular basis and are well equipped to effectively handle them. Many organizations get stuck at a level of efficiency based on legacy methods and skill levels. Resistance to change in this VUCA world can be detrimental to organization growth and can even have a devastating effect.