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The current model for delivering business transformation and change is badly broken, says expert

Out-Law Analysis | 02 Oct 2017 | 11:27 am | 3 min. read

ANALYSIS: The way that organisations typically try to achieve transformational change is overcomplicated, hard to embrace and is failing to deliver for business.

These failures cost organisations millions of pounds and thousands of hours in wasted effort, possibly billions of pounds in opportunity costs and even corporate failure in some cases.

There is a better way.

In a series of articles I'll look at good practices that organisations can follow to deliver transformation and change successfully. I will also describe the 'delivery' approach that has served me so well.  However, first I will highlight four things many organisations get wrong at the outset of major deliveries.

Failure to nail down what you are trying to achieve

Transformational deliveries tend to stem from several sources, including: a strategy planning exercise among executives which involves setting new organisational goals; or an innovative idea thought up or endorsed by one of the senior management team that is promoted as offering benefits to the business. Either way, the delivery must have the appropriate treatment applied.

Often businesses embark on these change initiatives without being sufficiently specific about what they want to achieve, or indeed properly understanding what various incremental steps need to be taken to reach that end goal. Instead, vague aspirations are outlined without sufficient thought being given to the true impact of the delivery, and the business processes and/or systems that might need to be overhauled to achieve them.

A statement of intent can be useful to capture the purpose of change. This can then help organisations specify the hierarchy of requirements that need to be achieved for the delivery to be a success. Getting that detail wrong at the outset can cause major disruption at a later stage in the delivery process.

A ship that sets out just one degree off course will find itself miles off its intended destination at the end of its journey. Corrective action costs time and money, if it is possible to complete the journey at all.

You need to be really clear about what you can achieve through change, why you want to achieve it and what the benefits are. Be clear about where you are, where you want to be, plan the journey in the middle.

Insufficient resourcing

Transformation and change deliveries are doomed to failure if organisations underestimate the resourcing required to get delivery right first time, and the focus required of that resource.  Most organisations don't do change – they operate on a 'steady state' basis – so they don't understand how to deliver it.

A common mistake is to charge an individual within the organisation with executing the delivery while also expecting them to do their day job. These people will tend to have proven themselves very capable in other capacities, but often lack transformation, change or delivery management skills or experience.

Change is a full time commitment and it requires a person leading a change initiative to be devoted to the role on a full time basis. They also need a dedicated team around them and to be given authority to make decisions that support the strong leadership characteristics they will require to display. Focus on what you want to achieve. You achieve what you focus on.

Failure to engage with stakeholders

Delivering transformation and change successfully requires buy-in from all stakeholders inside and outside the organisation.

In many cases, however, businesses fail to consult with the stakeholders properly before implementing new systems or setting out new ways of working.

Not only does this approach risk alienating staff and promoting a culture of fear and confusion over the intentions of management within the workforce, it can result in the misdirection or even failure of the delivery.

The heads of departments that will be impacted by change, as well as other significant staff members, will often have expert knowledge of the processes involved in carrying out their tasks as well as a keen understanding of how they might be made more efficient.

By engaging with these individuals, businesses develop their understanding of what needs to change and incentivise stakeholders to embrace the process of change. Further, without their buy-in and knowledge risks, issues, constraints, and opportunities cannot be thoroughly assessed, rendering the planning process incomplete. Clear communication is key to effecting change.

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Understanding all the work that is required to make a delivery a success is what constitutes a plan: the order of execution, dependencies up and down the 'delivery stack', the resources required to do the work, the associated risks, issues, constraints and opportunities,.

An immense amount of effort is required to plan properly. The investment in getting it right first time pays huge dividend for the business. 

Many delivery teams simply fail to deliver on the planning front. They fail to understand the difference between planning and scheduling and attempt to build complex delivery plans with thousands of line items in Gantt charts. These tend to make no sense to anyone but the planner. This approach misses out on major opportunities to drive out delivery specification and to build highly-effective teams in the process.

In theory this is simple; in reality life is more difficult when faced with ambitious vision for change and under severe cost and time pressures. We see the same mistakes being made in organisations embarking on transformation, and change. The issues are particularly acute when it comes to the adoption of new technology.

Mark Hunt is an expert in business transformation and technical deliveries. He is a delivery director at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.