Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

How do I break down silos?

I have been reflecting a on a programme of change we had delivered to a client last year. The organisation had traditionally operated in divisional silos, where each department had competing interests in various operational matters. It was an immensely successful project, winning international awards for both us and our client. I have been trying to reconcile in my mind what went well and what could have been done better. One realisation that hits me on the face is that it is people who make programmes a success or failure, not technology, or ingenuity.

The first ingredient I see for success in any change programme is to have someone with a vision. This needs to be within the organisation where change is taking place. Without this key ingredient any change programme will not succeed. Vision from the outside consultants will never succeed unless an internal champion exists to advocate for it. Vision on its own is not sufficient. You
need a sympathetic ear from someone who can yield a reasonable stick. Time will come when you need someone to bang some heads together to make sure people follow the strategic direction desired by the organisation.

Any significant change programme takes a significant amount of communication, some negotiation, elements of compromise. Then again compromises cannot be about the strategic direction, more about in approaches to get there. You also need to make sure that in search of a better future, you do not compromise the business today. This is always a delicate balance to strike. Breaking down silos and getting people to communicate is the key. How do you do that?

Change by nature is a threat to people. Different people approach this threat in different ways. Getting the first few on board is always the most difficult in a change programme. One thing to remember is that some people will be against the change regardless how you approach it. There will be another group who are ready to be swayed for or against the change. The key is to ensure you focus on getting the fence sitters on your side and find a way to neutralise the active opposers.

The way we approached this task in the programme was to set small targets. We chose to consult widely, but only integrate the systems of two departments that were most enthusiastic about the programme. We ensured technical representation from all the departments and word started filtering out that the programme had a more than even chance of succeeding. It was much easier to bring other departments in the fold.

Regardless of how much momentum you build at any stage of the programme, there always comes a stage when the pace slows somewhat. You need to keep an active vigil for any signs of stagnation. Changes are difficult to implement. If things get too hard, people will go back to old habits. Measure your success as you go and distribute your success story. It builds buy-in from others and keeps morale high for those already converted.

When changes take hold, take the old tools away. It will prevent going back to the old ways.


2 responses to “How do I break down silos?

  1. Pingback: Digital media is breaking down the enterprise silos « People like to share

  2. simonwmoore December 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Good ideas certainly setting the stage for early adoption is key, I share a few more here around potentially making change fun and the importance of setting the right managerial incentives:

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