Having a failing transformation project on your hands can be torturous. As if the sleepless nights and constant worry that seeps out of the office and into your personal life isn’t enough, the reputational damage can seriously affect your future career progress.
As a change and transformation expert and founder of Oakwood Management Consulting, there’s never been a troubled project I haven’t been able to rescue. So in today’s blog I’m sharing the specific reason your transformation project is going wrong, and the steps you need to turn it around in just one month. Yes, it really is possible - read on to find out how.
Good ideas aren’t enough of a reason to embark on a transformation project.
I see a lot of pet projects in the corporate world where people make assumptions about the changes needed without any real business case.
An example of this was when I was involved in a project where the primary driver was to reduce the number of systems being used across a large global engineering consultancy.
Great idea. But where was the value going to come from?
I realised very quickly that the sheer amount of work, time and man hours involved to make the switch from around 300-400 systems down to 20-30, plus the time it would take to get everyone on board and decommission the old systems, meant the ROI was going to be minimal.
This is true even in relatively small companies. A good idea isn't necessarily a financially good idea.
Having a clear understanding of your business cases means you can have a truly honest conversation with stakeholders and sponsors about the financial return and manage their expectations.
If you haven't got a robust business case, expect that sinking feeling as your transformation goes wrong very early on as you realise you’ll struggle to deliver large savings.
Do you fully understand both what the costs and benefits of your project are?
Stakeholders can certainly take a project off-track. However, user engagement is absolutely vital when it comes to delivering a successful change project too.
Take the example above from the engineering company who were seeking to switch from 300- 400 systems down to 20-30. That’s a lot of change to the day-to-day lives of a lot of engineers. In order to achieve that, you have to get them on board and allow them to participate in every stage of the journey.
You cannot afford to wait until you've done all your planning and you're at the beginning of implementation and start saying to people, "Guess what guys? This is what we plan to do." Because honestly, your plans are made by then and they can see that. They can see that you've decided without them what you want to do with their working lives. It's really difficult to come back from that.
When you see a transformation project going wrong, it's fundamental to look at what the engagement is like.
Are you engaging across all of the different aspects, both with stakeholders and users?
Are you engaging appropriately in line with the level of maturity of the project and project life cycle?
Is your project running behind schedule? Often, projects fall behind due to productivity problems. If you’re not getting through the things you need to do fast enough, then you need to look at why in detail.
In my experience, it can be the smallest thing that can hold up a project. On one large construction project I worked on, there was a contractual need for all changes to be certified by the client. Therefore something that could have been done in several weeks was taking years because the client had 500 change requests backed up. Every single detail of this project was being controlled too tightly for what turned out to be no good reason.
Are there rules of productivity you put in place at the design phase that aren’t useful now and should be changed? Are there other aspects of the projects programme that could be improved to get it back on track? Parallel working on different aspects? Reordering the schedule? More attention to critical path and secondary path elements?
Often companies that do a lot of transformation struggle to a) get good resources onto the project and b) mobilise resources from around the business to get a cross functional team working together or even c) fail to get enough resources entirely.
They say, "Well, we don't need the HR resources, IT resources and subject matter experts in the operations teams yet, we can deal with them later on in implementation. We can do all the planning upfront with a much smaller team."
That's really a dangerous game because it involves separating the team, and the best transformation happens when you have the same team from beginning to end.
Having the right resources at the right time while still keeping everybody involved is an art form, and often transformation projects fail on this.
One of the key things that happens is either you don't have everybody involved, or you have everybody involved to a level where the expense to the company is much too great for the return that the transformation project is going to deliver. It's important to optimise the resources you do have.
Is your project suffering because you are failing to optimise resources or have too little to begin with?
Even if your project isn’t about finances or savings, every transformation project is about delivering value into the organisation.
Having the confidence to say you're going to deliver the required savings or value comes back to our discussion at the beginning about business cases. Because having the business case is great, but the ability to deliver against the targets you've set is absolutely fundamental.
If you finish the project and say it was successful, when actually it's taken more resources, time or engagement and therefore cost more, it’s unlikely senior management will be singing your praises. They may actually begin to think of your project as more of a failure than a true success and if you see that being a possible outcome during your project can cause you to doubt the wisdom of continuing. While you are worrying about this your schedule slows down and you get stuck in a governance loop of updating stakeholders and sponsors. It can be hard to recover the momentum after those wobbles.
So your confidence throughout the process that you can deliver savings is of paramount importance. This is about understanding how you’re going to measure and track the benefits as your project progresses when you’re drawing up your business case. Don’t skip this vital step, or you’ll find yourself having to make your project appear more successful than it actually is.
Now you know the 5 most common reasons why your transformation project is failing, let’s move onto the step-by-step to help you turn it around.
Reading the 5 most common reasons I’ve outlined above, it’s likely you’ve had a few light-bulb moments, and can now see at least one area that just isn’t adding up.
To get your project back on track and avoid the overwhelm of tinkering around the edges, decide which of those 5 areas is your primary issue.
Then look at if there are other secondary issues that will also need to be addressed.
Knowing the exact problem is always the first step to take towards fixing it.
As intimidating as it may seem, you have to find out where your stakeholders and users stand if you want to move forward in a positive way and deliver real change. This doesn't have to take a long time and here are some wonderful tools you can use.
I love to get several rooms full of people and spend an hour getting all of their views and input. Collating real causes is about doing some data-driven detective work. For example, if you're experiencing productivity problems, you need to do some schedule analysis to understand exactly what is driving your issues.
Once you've understood the next layer down of issues by speaking to people and using your data driven detective work, then you need to do some root cause analysis to understand what is actually the cause of some of these things. Because very often, we can see the same problem reappearing time and time again in the transformation project because we haven't solved the cause. We've just solved the problem that happens to be coming up then.
If you’re a transformation director or leader of corporate change programs reading this, it is absolutely possible for you to take these steps yourself. You can look at these steps and the five areas which are most likely to be the cause of your problems and work through the solutions.
But having been a transformation director myself, I know how hard it is to find the time to do this work. Sometimes you feel so overwhelmed that what you really need is a guide to help you.
That's why I created The Transformation Turnaround.
One month of guidance from me to help turn your transformation turnaround. Three calls, one right at the beginning of the month, and then calls as we go through the month, which work through different aspects of the exact methodology I’ve outlined here with detailed tools and methodologies to make a difference, fast.
I created this speedy and affordable solution because I'm passionate about improving the rate of change.
“I believe that every single change project should be successful, sustainable, and self-sufficient every single time.”
Is a month really long enough to turn a floundering project around?
Yes! I can absolutely guarantee that you can turn any transformation project around in a month from wherever it is if you take the required action that we will identify together.
How much does this month of guidance to turn around your change project? Well, it’s not as costly as you might initially think. Plus, for the next month I'm offering 50% off the usual cost of the program.
For a small investment of time and money, you can go into your monthly review feeling comfortable and safe in the knowledge that you’re taking the right steps to turn your project around.
Find out more about The Transformation Turnaround, and book a discovery call with me where we can dive into exactly how to turn your project around.
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