So, your enterprise has embarked on a journey to transform its business. Perhaps it’s a digital transformation, leveraging enhanced technology capabilities to digitize how you deliver your product or services. Or maybe you are looking to capture synergies through a strategic acquisition, taking the best of both firms to provide amore compelling offering to market.
These enterprise-scale transformations always start with the best intentions. Unfortunately, the odds of success are rather dire. Whether it’s a digital transformation, merger integration, cost reduction, or similar program the success rates are similarly dismal – typically between 20 – 30%.
Of course, this is not news. Everyone knows that transforming an organization is hard – otherwise, management consulting would be a much less lucrative industry. Even with this understanding, though, we still see many teams fall into some common traps that may seem like good approaches initially, but have shortcomings that hinder their chances of delivering against goals.
In this blog we will look at some of the common traps teams fall into when trying to deliver strategic transformations, and how to avoid them. Our hope is that this will help you become one of the 20-30% that beats the odds and delivers programs that achieve, or even exceed, their targets.
Certainly program management as a discipline has been evolving for a long time, and delivery capabilities are improving. Despite this steady improvement, though, we frequently hear that teams are struggling to achieve their transformation targets.
Many factors conspire to drive these programs off course, and through our experience we have identified some recurring themes:
In response to these challenges teams often start with what they know. Whether it is strong traditional program management capabilities, a continuous improvementCOE, or a small team of ex-consultants, teams often rely on known approaches to tackle large-scale programs. And unfortunately the shortcomings of these approaches are not recognized until it’s too late, and programs have begun to fall short of their aspirations.
We have seen five common “traps” that teams can fall into when trying to deliver transformation programs:
On time, on budget, within scope. This is the iron triangle of program management. See what’s missing? Business value!
Beware of the teams with 100+ page playbooks and 1,000+ line Gantt Charts to drive business transformation. These are the teams that follow their prescriptive program management rituals but lose sight of exactly why they are executing the program. There is frequent talk of measuring progress and earned value, but limited understanding of the big picture or strategic intent.
These teams are the most likely to fall into the earlier definition of a “Zombie PMO” – continuing to execute against astatic plan, without an understanding of how it contributes to business value. Although they seem to be making progress against tasks, nobody is quite sure of the value they have delivered. Team members are demoralized as they question the meaning of their work, and seem to repeat the same box-checking exercises day-in and day-out.
This approach starts off with good intentions – typically around managing data quality and “not disrupting the business.” A small, dedicated team of bright people with Excel and PowerPoint get to creating immensely complicated models and reporting progress on a regular cadence via a series of tailored update documents. All inputs and outputs flow through the team, as initiative leads send their updates and the team creates reports for the executives.
While this approach often starts well, it begins to encounter challenges as the program scales. Suddenly the team is spending more time chasing updates, managing models, and creating slides than actually managing the program. There is a lack of enterprise ownership of the program, as the bulk of the organization sees it as “the business transformation team’s program.”. In the worst cases, this team is exposed to considerable pressure from stakeholders to paint their portion of the program in a favorable light.
Perhaps the most dangerous approach, it starts off promising as there is a laser focus on business outcomes rather than delivery processes. Teams build out detailed business cases, and there is rigorous monitoring of benefits realization.
Where this falls apart is when programs inevitably face challenges. Bad news is not accepted, especially when it potentially impacts value realization. Teams are forced to find ways to achieve the targets, even if prerequisite tasks are not completed. Imagine when an IT system that has promised significant efficiency improvements has been delayed – these teams will take actions to reduce headcount despite the underlying systems not being ready.
This approach also leads to a demoralized workforce, as resources struggle to handle expanding workloads. Additionally this often results in a less effective organization, as resources battle to merely operate the business with no time to truly innovate. This process repeats every 2-3 years as teams burn out, and the transformations are met with the phrase “here we go again.”
Agile is rightfully becoming a standard approach for software development, and it is beginning to make inroads even beyond technology. It is a terrific methodology for aligning functionalities with business needs, and accelerating time-to-value with the delivery of Minimum Viable Products. Teams feel empowered to influence the prioritization and planning of their work, and delivery progress is continuously monitored via burndown and story points.
Although Agile is terrific for software development, teams should be cautious when applying the methodology to other disciplines such as strategic transformation programs. When teams deploy Agile for their strategic transformations we often hear two main challenges: one is that executives can’t plan around delivery – they don’t know what is being delivered more than three months out, and thus struggle to forecast the financial impact. Second, there is often a challenge in developing a program-level view and managing dependencies across teams (although this maybe a function of agile management tool capabilities than the methodology itself).
A final trap we see is that teams will leverage continuous improvement to try and drive transformational change. Certainly organizations should continuously strive to improve operations, and many effectively leverage approaches such asLean to drive continuous, incremental enhancements.
The challenge is that continuous improvement approaches struggle to deliver truly transformational change. They lack the overall coordination to align the organization to a strategic goal, and initiatives are typically constrained to efforts that can be delivered by small teams – thus delivering small(relative) improvements.
Teams that run successful programs understand that transformation delivery requires a comprehensive, inclusive, goal-driven approach. There is no prescriptive “one size fits all” methodology that can be successfully deployed across all organizations and program types; however there are some key guiding principles that greatly enhance the odds and magnitude of success. Below are some common themes that we have identified among our most successful clients:
Of course, the right software platform is a key enabler of the themes above. Some specific capabilities that should be prioritized are as follows:
Amplify is a Strategy Execution Management platform that has been developed to help organizations deliver on the promise of theirmost ambitious and critical transformations. Our solution has been optimized based on the feedback of thousands of users, using Amplify to deliver billions of dollars in program benefits.
Some key capabilities that Amplify brings are as follows:
Delivering enterprise transformations programs is hard, and unfortunately many teams fall short. However, all is not lost, as effective organizations are able to deliver programs that meet or exceed their strategic goals. They know to avoid the common traps of program delivery, and set up program structures that facilitate a comprehensive, inclusive, goal-driven approach. Additionally, they leverage purpose-built solutions like Amplify to help them deliver the change.
Interested in learning more? Reach out to our team and we will be happy to show you how Amplify can equip your team to deliver results.