How to promote end2end thinking and action.

Projects should be understood across all systems. Nevertheless, employees seem to be limiting themselves more and more to their individual tasks. There is a lack of an end2end perspective. Where does it come from?

It may help if I briefly explain what I mean by “end2end”. The term is not new, but is experiencing a revitalization, especially in connection with digitalization projects:

“An end-to-end process is a process that consists of all temporally-logically sequential sub-processes that are necessary to fulfill a specific customer need. “ / query 19.10.2023

Of course, this is just one of many descriptions. What I like about it are two points in particular:

  1. on the one hand, there is the (unsurprising) classification of logically related sub-processes into a superordinate overall process. This means that the end2end perspective presupposes that this overall process is known. Otherwise the classification will not work. 2 And secondly, the customer takes center stage. An end2end perspective is probably easier to adopt if you understand what is to be made possible for whom through this overall process. This allows everyone involved to focus better on value creation for the customer, strengthening quality, impact and benefits. An end2end perspective ultimately promotes the goal-oriented allocation of resources.

Understanding the overall process

It’s actually a paradox: specific methods and tools have been introduced in the agile working world, for example, to remove complexity from overall processes. They promote rapid progress despite blockades or constantly changing framework conditions, customer requirements and resources. Projects are broken down into many subtasks, which are accepted and solved by employees according to their ability and desire. Retro sessions are used to solve problems together or share findings. Dedicated roles combine such individual services and integrate them into the overall system so that the desired effect is ultimately achieved and the customer is provided with the ordered benefits.

In other words, this flexibilization brings both a blessing and a curse: systems remain in motion despite high complexity, while at the same time many partial solutions make the necessary overview difficult. This is why specific roles have been created to enable coordination and facilitate reliable planning cycles. However, many companies lack sufficient skills to do this. Employees are hardly expected to do this anymore: instead, they focus on their tasks, want comprehensive support and want to make progress (quickly).

This is probably not unfamiliar to you:

Experienced project managers who maintain an overview, talk to customers as well as integrate employees and place problems in an appropriate context to create space for solutions have become rare and are lacking everywhere.

There are probably several reasons for this (the list can certainly be extended):

  • We select employees for project roles based on their technical skills instead of their social skills (and assume they can deal with stakeholders independently);
  • We train employees in project management instead of project leadership (and assume that they will recognize the difference on their own and adapt their behavior);
  • We do not talk about leadership, understanding of leadership and leadership expectations for specific roles (and assume that everyone in the company understands more or less the same thing by this);
  • We do not protect our employees from “assaultive” customers, leaving them “between the hammer and the anvil”, even though it is not a psychologically healthy place to be (and we assume that they will toughen up over time).

As a result, there are fewer and fewer employees in absolute and relative terms who are able to maintain an overall view and mediate at the right level.

How is healing possible? Standardized offers are available for certain further training courses (such as project manager). The methods and techniques learned help graduates to complete their project work efficiently. However, especially in complex projects, it is rarely a matter of a specific technique, but rather the ability to establish a connection to the project for all those involved, to gain their trust and to involve them.

Project managers are therefore always also cultural ambassadors. And I therefore suggest that companies that rely on such project managers think very carefully about how they can create company and context-specific opportunities for them (in addition to standardized further training) to do the job as well as possible. This includes an expectation- and impact-oriented definition of the role, flexible mentoring and the easiest possible exchange with peers - above all to push project managers up the learning curve, so to speak. In short, every company should be clear about how it can ensure that project managers can work successfully in their particular context. After all, this is the basis for follow-up orders and a close, trusting customer relationship.

After all, it would probably not be a bad idea to take a closer look at the role. How have the requirements changed? A project manager may have to communicate much more with customers and employees today than ten years ago. In addition, the knowledge base of customers has expanded (in the sense of “have read, heard, seen a lot”), but the actual application or implementation skills have become thinner. So customers need more help than before, but don’t want to hear it because they believe otherwise.

So if we want to strengthen the end2end perspective of employees, we need multipliers who ensure this strengthening within the company. They don’t fall from the trees, but need to be trained meticulously and specifically. And the focus of this further training should shift: away from doing and towards being. This means that the job has not only become far more psychological, but also more reflective. Project managers should have concepts such as fear, psychological safety and non-violent or de-escalating communication in their repertoire. They should work in a reflective manner and understand how to create perspectives and establish the desired connection to the overall project.

Understanding the customer

In recent years, companies have become increasingly concerned with themselves as a result of various events and trends. The focus has been on the question “How do we deal with this?” rather than “How do we use this to our advantage on the market?”. And so the customer gradually receded into the background. The view of the customer was obscured by questions about an optimal, modern organization, helpful governance structures and processes, digital forms of communication or further possibilities for increasing the efficiency of internal cooperation processes. Against this backdrop, it is not easy to identify, communicate and ultimately fulfill specific customer needs. I consider it an unfavorable tendency if tinkering with internal processes is given the same importance as identifying and serving relevant customer needs.

How can such a situation be healed? Start with a simple step: look at the agendas of all team meetings in your company and then shift the emphasis towards the customer. We have managed to ensure that employees now spend more time trying to avoid a possible mistake or coming up with alternatives to get out of the proverbial line of fire than taking advantage of an opportunity. Successes are always annexed, it has always been that way. Just: Make sure that your teams want to win (i.e. seize opportunities) instead of not wanting to lose (i.e. avoid mistakes). It’s not that difficult: The findings of positive psychology have shown us that through specific communication you can demonstrably get teams to behave differently, more opportunity-oriented. I have previously written separate newsletters on both topics.

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