The statistics for successful Transformation don’t make for pretty reading with a full 70% of Transformations failing at some level or even being abandoned. So if transformation projects are known for being problematic, can we pre-empt and mitigate the risk?
Project success is the outcome we all aim for when a large-scale transformation is underway, however the statistics are pretty telling: It’s inevitable that at some point in a transformation, projects will slide from green to amber.
But at what point does a project go from green to amber? Is it obvious when the slide starts to occur or is there a lag of days, weeks, or even months as the multiple data points needed to assess a project’s health start to filter through to the PM and sponsor?
By the time the information is available, valuable time is lost to re-set a course for success and furthermore issues that may have been easily correctible if acted upon more quickly typically increase in severity.
The slide from we’re on track to we may have a problem rarely occurs in real-time, but what if there is an inevitability that some projects, due to their complexity, size and nature, are destined to become problematic? Where is the benefit of waiting for the inevitable amber or red rating to be recorded via inflight assurance only to have to take corrective action anyway?
Given that Transformation projects are known to be challenging and that their status will inevitably change from green to amber or to red at some point, there’s merit in taking pre-emptive action. Rather than asking why Transformation projects fail, perhaps we should instead be asking: What causes a Transformation project to succeed?
The Success Factors: Why Do Projects succeed?
All successful projects have one thing in common: They are set up for success from the beginning with nothing left to chance during initial establishment and mobilisation phases.
In our reviews of successful projects, we’ve found that the bigger and more complex the project, such as a transformation, the more attention is required in these early phases. While that may sound straightforward, it’s not as simple as spending time to set up for success so that all will be well.
Transformations are typically complex and very often the team pulled together to execute the transformation – from the sponsor, to PMs, to subject matter experts – may not have the requisite experience to set up for success. This is the point at which an early independent review on ‘what good looks like’ can offer considerable value by bringing in a different lens.
An Outside-in Point of View
The value of an external point of view early on in project development and transformation is twofold: An independent eye can bring an understanding of best practice through experience of similar transformations and the freedom to call out when things are not set up properly because it is unencumbered by the fear of rocking the internal boat. But for maximum success, it needs a structured approach.
Terms of Reference must focus in on the key building blocks that should be in place for success Transformation programs. This is a focus on things such as:
- Area all key stakeholders aligned with what constitutes success for the project
- The structure of the PMO
- How the governance is set up (including roles and responsibilities)
- The frequency and terms of reference of all key decision bodies; and
- The experience, quality and bandwidth of the people involved in running the program.
As mentioned above, the statistics for successful delivery of transformation aren’t pretty. Some 70% either fail in some way, shape, or form, or – in the most extreme cases – are abandoned entirely.
With the spectre of these failures in mind, setting up for success should be a critical part of the process of projects as inherently large and complex as transformation, given there is so little margin for error.
Anticipate, Pre-empt, and Manage a Red Status, then Plan for Recovery
Even with sound assurance processes in place for the duration of a project, sitting back and waiting for the inevitable slide from green to amber – or red, as the case may be –can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Prevention is always better than a cure: Setting up for success from the outset requires a focus on the PMO, governance, engagement of decision-makers, and being able to evaluate the bandwidth and capabilities of the team. Focussing on the known areas of risk during the set up phase, and bringing in an external lens to help identify these risks, may help ensure your project avoid these speed bumps later down the road.
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