TheĀ MasteringĀ Project Management Blog

How To Get Your Project People to Think and Act Like Owners

Mar 28, 2024

In his book, The One-Page Project Manager, author Clark A. Campbell shares a technique he developed as a project manager for O.C. Tanner, a 2,000-person company that specializes in employee recognition products. The “one page” referenced in the title of the book is a freely available template that, when filled out and maintained, provides an efficient tool for communicating project status to stakeholders, especially upper management.

In this excerpt from his book, Campbell explains how to get people involved in the project “to think and act like owners.” The One-Page Project Manager makes the name of every project’s owner public for all to see, including senior management. It engages those involved in a project. As they see how their part of a project is progressing, they know that others see how well they are performing.

Ownership is a key to engagement. Full engagement requires both heart and mind: Heart: An understanding and commitment to a project’s vision, complete with a clear understanding about what you own, engages the heart. Documentation and display of your ownership magnifies this understanding and commitment. When the owner knows that colleagues, senior management, or others know about this ownership, the owner’s emotional engagement with a project deepens.

Mind: The One-Page Project Manager provides a clear connection between ownership and the project’s objectives and metrics. The mind portion of project management involves showing what the participants own and how the objectives are measured. Clear ownership illuminates the winners and losers, namely those who deserve to be recognized and receive commendations for jobs well done and those who need to be assisted.

The One-Page Project Manager makes it easier to be sure that everyone who deserves recognition receives it because all the major owners of a project are listed on the tool. This isn’t trivial because acknowledgment and rewards are proven motivators. Yet, senior management often doesn’t know who to reward or appreciate. They often get their information from sound bites — comments from managers or others, things they hear, or feelings they have about a person or a piece of the project. This can cause over rewarding the undeserving or under-appreciating those who perform well.

Key Concept: With the One-Page Project Manager, responsible owners are clearly manifest. Ownership is Remarkably Powerful.

The following five cases exemplify how ownership generates engagement, and often some unexpected accomplishments:

Shingo Prize Project - We had one month to submit our application for the Shingo Prize. Senior management didn’t think we could do it. I invited anyone in the company who wanted to help, to join the team. They would not earn any extra money, and the work would be done after hours. The team, in fact, worked from 5:00 P.M. to midnight for a month to complete this project. They understood the vision, were energized by the thought of beating the odds, and were welded together by a single, time-constrained focus. It was an energized team; it created a very emotional and productive climate. You can keep a team on that level of commitment for only a short time. We did it for one month, and we succeeded and brought home the prize — literally and metaphorically.

Boiler Stack - As we were building an automated distribution center, we discovered late in the project that the boiler stack was required by building codes to extend five feet above the building. This would mean an ugly, tall, wired-down, galvanized stack rising above our beautiful building. To reroute it would cost $100,000, which wasn’t in the budget. The owner of that part of the project took it on himself to find a solution. He ferreted out an obscure opportunity. If a blower was installed in the stack, the code said the stack didn’t have to extend beyond the roofline and, with a little paint; he could almost hide this unplanned distraction. For $10,000, a workable solution involving a blower was found. This employee had a personal, emotional connection because he had a great deal of ownership in this project. This ownership came about because his name was on the One-Page Project Manager connected to this part of the project — and the objective to complete the project within budget.

ISO 9000 - This project demonstrates an aspect of ownership not often thought about. We hired consultants to help us get this coveted international certification. When consultants are brought in, it’s easy to dump responsibility and blame on them. We find that doesn’t work well in project management. For that reason, every owner on a One-Page Project Manager has to be our employee. Consultants and other outsiders are not principle owners. This project was successfully completed in five months rather then the expected six, in part because a highly motivated, energized O.C. Tanner leader owned each piece, not the consultants.

Accounts Receivable Project - For years, our accounts receivable were too high. Previous attempts to resolve this problem would push responsibility down to the collections department. We set up a formal project, complete with a One-Page Project Manager, and on that tool, we placed the names of sales vice presidents. After all, it was the sales department that was generating all these accounts receivable, and a sale really isn’t a sale until the money is collected. This got the attention of the right people and, once they took ownership, major changes occurred. This, combined with assigning an owner to the set-up, invoicing, and collecting processes resulted in a reduction of unpaid accounts by 25 days.

ERP Project - Lest you think that the One-Page Project Manager is a cure-all, a guarantee that all projects will be highly successful, there’s the ERP project we did at O.C. Tanner. We delivered it on budget, and it had the return on investment promised, but it was not delivered on time. Actually, it took more than twice as long as originally forecast. However, management was able to accommodate this schedule because it knew, as the project progressed, why the project was running late and by how much. It knew this because every two weeks it received an updated One-Page Project Manager that clearly showed which aspects of the project were falling behind the desired timeline and which were on time. The One-Page Project Manager could not, by itself, bring this project in on time, but it could communicate to management what was happening, where the difficulties were, who was responsible, and what to expect. 

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