In a previous article we discussed 6 factors that influenced the success or in-success of a temporary management project, these were:
clear objectives, responsibilities and empowerment of the temporary manager
stakeholder support, most importantly the owners
resources, quality and quantity
openness to change within the company
changing objectives during the course of the project
communication of the the project within the company
The next natural step was to get some practical feedback that confirmed or contradicted these observations and deepened our knowledge even further. For example we wanted answers to following questions:
Which of these 6 factors were the most important?
What did a successful project look like when a “ factor snapshot” was taken?
What were the priorities to get the most impact?
In an attempt to answer these questions we surveyed 50 temporary management projects, completed mainly by members of Leading Network (the largest association of temporary managers in Italy).
The Projects in the Survey
The majority of the projects were in companies with sales between 2 Million and 50 Million euro and 65% family owned. Most of the contracts were directly between the temporary manager and the company with only 16% of contracts between the TM and specialized providers (such as EIM, STM, TIM, Contract Manager, TMC). The majority of the projects had a duration between 6 and 18 months.
Most of the projects where judged by the temporary manager as a partial success or a success and a relatively small percentage of temporary managers considered their project as an in-success.
The success rate was 40% in our survey but projects in larger independent companies (greater than 50M€) had a 100% success rate. These projects were a collaboration between a company manager and the temporary manager and did not have the complications of the limited resources of smaller companies, weaker organization or the influence of family relationships.
Factors for Success
Definition of project objectives
The majority of the project definitions where deemed clear or sufficiently clear and only 16% were considered unclear.
All projects that finished with in-success started with unclear objectives. And projects that started with unclear objectives finished at most as a partial success (but never a success). Most importantly a strong statistical correlation was found between the clarity of the project definition and the success rate.
The survey also showed that if the objectives of a project were clearly defined than so too were the roles of the temporary managers.
Almost half of the temporary managers said that they had insufficient support from the owners. So why did owners start temporary management projects in the first place?
This could be explained if the objectives had not included the support the owners should have given in the various phases of the project. For example changes in governance or delegation within the company/ family, and all the personal relationships issues generated during the change. Or it may have been the first time that an owner had collaborated with a manager, let alone a temporary manager.
However, when the owner support was good it had a significant impact as it doubled the success rate. This was also shown by the strong correlation between owner support and the project success rate. It was also noted that the level of owner support was the factor that varied most from project to project and had the largest standard deviation of all the factors.
The success rate was closely correlated to the quality of resources but a large number of projects suffered from insufficient talent. The quality of resources refered to the skill level available for the project and not to be confused with the level of skill in the quality department!
A significant percentage of projects also lacked quantity of human resources and had problems balancing the operational activity with the project. The situation was similar for financial funding.
It is interesting to note that in other industrial sectors the change of objectives during the project is a major cause of in-success. For example, if during the construction of a house the client decided to remake the foundations or add another story then the project manager would rightfully panic. On the other hand continuous changes in temporary management were in the majority.
Openness to Change
Our survey showed that 1 in 5 companies resisted change and the resistance came mainly from the family members , owners and the board. As would be expected the success rate of these projects was lower at 13% in respect to the 40% average. Clearly there were issues in human relationships which influenced the resistance to change.
It is normal for a people to resist change if it effects they way they have been working for a considerable time, so attention must be paid to those who are for or against change. From our survey the sponsors and resistors were of similar proportion and the majority of the projects sat on the fence.
Our survey showed that the strongest factors for project success were clear objectives, company resources and owner support.
The temporary manager must have the technical competencies to define the objectives and the transitional documents (such as the company check-up, business plan and/or the project plan). These are the basic project management tools that create clarity and a point of reference but they alone are not enough.
Leading Network develops concepts, consolidated working practices and a common language for temporary managers to use on projects. These standards cover not only the” hard” aspects (e.g. the Business Plan) but also the “soft” issues such as the relationships within the family and the company. For example a new approach called 4P is being applied to help the transition of the family during a generational transfer. This is an area where many temporary managers are working and the opportunities to make a positive impact in the future are considerable. Another tool being applied is the SAB Business Canvass which enriches traditional planning based on KPIs with issues of psychological relationships and professional roles.
The professional temporary manager should have soft skills (such as intelligent listening, mirroring, coaching, conflict management, team building) to understand/ facilitate the human issues of the stakeholders. Right from the project start this is needed to explore the deeper consequences of change that go beyond the bottom line results.
As expected all the resource factors (quantity, quality, financial backing) had significant importance for project success rate but the resource quality was marginally more important. So for new projects an evaluation of resource saturation should be backed by an evaluation of resource quality against project needs. In projects where talent is not available internally then it should be specified, planned, searched and recruited. Many smaller companies do not have these skills so it is suggested that the temporary manager grows a network of recruiters for middle management/technical specialists. Indeed, in some cases the problem of quality resources could be solved by temporary managers with other functional competences (such as HR) collaborating on the same project for a limited period.
Support of the Owner
The support that owners gave to temporary management varied greatly from company to company. When a temporary manager enters a company for the first time he should try to sense what level of support will be given, this is not easy. How can you measure the support ? Transparency of information? Punctuality at meetings? The survey gave us answers but it also found difficult questions to think about !
Openness to Change
It is common practice to identify sponsors for change and those strongly against it early in the project. The sponsors are actively involved in the project and used as role models to convert the undecided. However, different policy is often used for the resistors. In a temporary management project there is often insufficient time to convert the non-believers so it is more practical to exclude them from the project and order them to be neutral. Clearly this is a delicate situation when we are involved with family members! Another difficult question.
To summarize, the strongest factors for project success were clear objectives, company resources and owner support. Figuratively speaking they were the wheel that the temporary manager had to push up the hill towards project success. The slope of the hill changed with the difficulty of the project or from company to company but the virtuous cycle of gaining support, getting resources and continuously re-confirming objectives remained the same. The openness to change and the communication reduced friction and helped keep the wheel rolling.
The family presence and the smaller company size changed the game for Italian temporary managers, the survey showed this numerically. This distinguishes the Italian market from northern Europe in regards to the competences of the temporary manager and soft skills needed to manage the more complex human relationships. In retrospect is not surprising that the Italian market has developed less than its European counterparts and there has been a limited penetration of foreign agencies in Italy.