A checklist for successful transformations

by | May 17, 2018

You built a strategy and a plan. Everyone signed off at the annual meeting. Great!

Now the hard part – execution. It’s no secret most organizations today are considering “transformation” initiatives – digital or otherwise – with greater urgency and frequency than ever before. Market disruptions and today’s fast-evolving business landscape require organizations to adapt if they are to experience growth and seize new market opportunities.

Transformation initiatives often require developing connected and often complex projects to effectively execute transformation vision and strategy. Traditional approaches to projects seek to control the same common elements, including complexity, scope, technical debt, change management and cost while adhering to  a rule to “do no harm” to existing operations while in flight. Organizations would  appoint a Project Manager to oversee these elements and wait for the “magic” to happen.

But today’s transformations are more than just project plans. They require effective overall program management discipline that goes beyond simply project reviews and administration.

Having spent many years executing enterprise transformations as business sponsor, technology owner, program manager and consultant, I’ve seen an evolution in how successful organizations are approaching transformations by applying certain critical success factors. Here’s my checklist of seven factors I believe will deliver better outcomes for your transformation initiatives:

  1. Define success
  • What does success look like? How do you know when you’re “done”? What are the measurable outcomes and metrics that accomplish the underlying strategy of the transformation?
  • It may seem obvious, but too often a lack of precision in defining success wreaks havoc later on. Soft goals and targets are too easy to let slide, and often fail to hold teams accountable for real results. The goal isn’t to merely finish, but rather to accomplish something. Make your success measures clear and understood across the team.
  1. Get commitment from the top
  • Executive leadership visibility, sponsorship and support are critical. Lacking this, staff will quickly assume the program is an “activity” and not a transformation. On the other hand, leaders who demonstrate sponsorship and commitment will get accountability from the team.
  • Here are some useful techniques:
    • Engineer a top-down initial buy-in for program objectives and guiding principles by engaging CEO/ ED, CFO and other CxOs
    • Conduct kick-off sessions with strong leadership participation to show support and drive the program
    • Establish an advisory board with full representation of impacted business/functional areas and appreciation for program approach
  1. Use high-performers with a clear governance structure
  • Put your best people on the program team, full-time if needed. Back-fill daily operations with other staff or temps. Let the “A” team build the future.
    • Choose the best and brightest from business groups that the process owners trust
  • Clearly define a governance structure with the program team empowered to make decisions. Allow appropriate levels to make decisions. Find trusted internal functional/process owners to validate program decisions.
  • Motivate for success. Set up incentives that tie to the definitions of success.
    • Dedicate resources and make the project relevant to their individual career goals and paths
    • Don’t let all that knowledge (core team) walk out the door after the program is launched – ensure they have vital roles to return to
  • Manage to Milestones. Plan the program against milestones, not activities; manage the teams to the milestones.

  1. Prepare a comprehensive communication strategy
  • Bake your change management and communications into the plan.
    • Training does not equal change management
    • Communicate repeatedly and throughout, leveraging the textbook approach of awareness > understanding > commitment
  • Employ multi-level communications. Executive meetings and 1:1 guidance, advisory board monthly meetings, core team workshops, etc.
    • Provide leadership their elevator speech so they can answer why the initiative is important to the enterprise
  • Focus on continuous knowledge transfer.
  1. Keep program scope “crisp”
  • Constrain scope to items that deliver the success criteria.
  • Establish a Change Control Board (CCB) and empower it to say no. Make it a high hurdle to even request a change to the plan.
    • Require team and business stakeholders to present their case with facts and business benefits
    • If a change impacts time/budget, require additional approval of the sponsor or CFO
  • For technology components, configure, don’t customize. Make the standard platform the going-in position. Subject all change requests to the change control process.
  1. Speed decision-making
  • Key decisions should be time-boxed and not revisited. Use the program plan to determine when decisions must be made. Empower project managers to make all decisions that do not impact timeline and/or cost.
  • Try a fixed timeline for the program – fit work and actions into the timeline.
  1. Stay focused on the benefits
  • Focus decision-making on real business value
  • Simplify and standardize business processes, reporting and controls
  • Formalize benefits realization roles within project

These criteria, offered as guidelines or principles, will help you construct a transformation that transcends traditional project delivery and elevates your initiative to mission-critical status, and performance, optimizing program clarity, velocity and results. If Mod Op Strategic Consulting can assist in the design or execution of your transformation, let’s talk!

Write us at [email protected]

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Mark Carberry


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