It’s Time to Transform the Process that Delivers Transformation
A new year always brings with it a chance for growth, but it seems as though 2023 promises to be a unique year plagued with unknowns. Will there be a strong national (or global) recession? Will inflation continue? Will companies pull back their operations in anticipation of a pending “doom” market?
Truth be told, large companies often anticipate and plan for these unknowns. They have to. It’s understandable because the larger the organization, the harder it will be to maneuver and change its tactical and—more importantly—strategic directions quickly, effectively, and successfully.
No time like the present
In uncertain times, many companies start to pull back out of fear of being overextended or overexposed. We think that’s a mistake. Many company leaders forget that bad times are when they should be focusing on innovating, finetuning, or perfecting their systems, thereby ensuring they are running an effective, efficient, and profitable organization.
For those organizations that take this step, a “down year” is the perfect time to think about corporate efficiency. There is a commonly known but often forgotten area in most organizations (regardless of industry or function) that has been ignored for decades. This area has a great deal of waste, is misunderstood by those who specialize in it and those managing the process, and, with some focused, dedicated, and strategic changes could make a major impact on your strategy.
Delivery, delivery, delivery
Whatever you might call it: program, project, transformation, or delivery . . . it’s not being focused on as much as it should be. This process needs an overhaul, and it’s time the C-suite focuses on it.
Delivery can be considered the Jan Brady to Marsha Brady. Everyone talks about other things (If you remember the Brady Bunch: “Marsh! Marsha! Marsha!”) yet forgets the functional piece that helps the organization do what it’s intended to do regardless of industry. So, to justify revamping how you deliver, let’s look at what typically happens in an organization.
CEOs and the rest of the C-Suite will spend their time defining the organization’s strategy. The New Year comes into focus, and the CEO tells their direct report to begin thinking about which projects they want to receive funding for the upcoming year. So, every department head comes up with a list of potential projects for the budget cycle. Projects will be paired down, and the process will repeat multiple times until a final budget with departmental breakouts is completed. Rinse and repeat every year.
In light of this basic scenario, some big questions need to be asked (and obviously answered):
- How well will the initiatives funded help deliver on the organization’s strategic vision?
- Was there a clear correlation to assessing potential projects as to how much value they will bring to the strategy?
- Will they be measured as to how well they did deliver the strategic vision?
- Were they prioritized as to funding the project portfolio that will bring the biggest impact to the strategy?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then there is a problem in that organization. If organizations define their portfolio of projects following the completion of a strategy and 1) the organization never measures the value achieved, there is a problem; 2) if the company doesn’t share the message of what the project is intended to do for the company, there is a problem; and 3) if the organization is not designed to be rewarded for driving out strategic value, there is a big problem.
What should an organization do?
So, after a corporate strategy and project funding scopes are completed, what are some steps to take to keep things moving along? Here are three key thoughts to keep top of mind as an organization reaches this stage of the process:
- Focus on strategic alignment
For anyone that has experienced a poor outcome of a project, it more than likely resulted in a solution or process that didn’t deliver value for the organization even if the project was completed successfully. How is that possible?There probably wasn’t a clear understanding of why the project was funded in the first place. Other than the common three foci of “Time, Budget, and Scope,” was the team clear on what success should look like to the company when this is done? Was it clear how this project fits into the strategic vision? Was the team aware (or did they define) the parameters of success?
Given that most project managers’ and teams’ direction is to complete the project on time, on budget and within scope, there is probably little understanding of how a project fits into the bigger (strategic) picture. If a transformational initiative is not being managed around desired outcomes or the future view of success for that effort, you are going to get less than desirable results.
You are also spending money with potentially little return if the strategic value is not understood. That is why it’s important to start every project within your organization with a strategic alignment. Get the executive sponsor and stakeholders in a room and let them work together to help define the expected strategic outcomes for this effort—and how success will be measured in the end.
It isn’t a difficult effort but once that alignment is complete, it can be shared with the team and brings a great deal of insight to those assigned to deliver it. For example, delivering a new training software package is quite different than asking an organization to deliver a new training software package that will allow employees to assess training in their own language as the company continues to grow globally.
- Modify how to define success
Project managers are taught to define success based on the “triple constraint:” get it done on time, on budget and within scope. They are also measured professionally using these same parameters. While these are important measurements, it’s important to remember that they are tactical measurements. Where is the discussion of the reasons why an organization is spending that money in the first place?Ask a project manager in your organization to explain the value add in the same way that the C-Suite would. Chances are you would not have a similar answer. Yet, unless this is a mandatory initiative, what is the reason for spending money to achieve results? Project managers are not trained or incentivized to look at the strategic reasons and alignment required in a program. Focusing on the “why” of a program is not expected. This is why many initiatives fail. Even for those projects that are delivered tactically and successfully (time, budget, and scope), it doesn’t mean that the expected strategic value was met.
- Incentive procurement to meet strategic value
Procurement is taught to drive down costs for vendors and consultants. Unfortunately, cheaper often wins out. Yet, you know the adage, “you get what you pay for.” With most projects failing (according to Gartner, about 75 percent), when you buy the cheapest, chances are high that you’re not getting the best quality. In this instance, your project manager is most likely aware of how to develop project management artifacts and check off boxes but is both unaware and comfortable with the fact that they are not accountable for driving strategic value.Why isn’t procurement rated by value generation? In reality, a project that delivers the strategic value your organization needs is worth quite a bit more than one that just checks off the box that it implemented a new solution. We’ve worked with companies that focused on getting a new software package implemented but paid little to no attention on the time/money spent on building out new business processes that drive that software! The software will go live (check that off the list) but doesn’t drive the company to a better outcome.
Getting there first
So how do we fix this? Or maybe the better question is why should we fix it? This is endemic in many large corporations today. When things turn around (and they always do), improving this delivery process will help you to be ahead of your competition, which might not have used this time to make improvements.
As mentioned earlier, a down year is a perfect time to think about corporate efficiency. And after decades of poorly managed efforts, it is time that the C-suite train their focus more on delivery and not solely on strategy. Here’s how to engage in (and fix) the program, project, transformation, or delivery process once you and your team have defined your strategy and scope:
The first step in changing how companies deliver programs and project management is to start with communicating the Strategic Vision. Similar to the previous thoughts on alignment, executives can ask these two key questions to further crystalize this step:a) What should success look like when this is all done?
b) How will we know when we are successful?
These two questions seem obvious, but they are vital to attacking the process with clarity.
Once you define how the project aligns to strategy and how it will further the vision, you can incorporate the desired outcomes and metrics into an integrated plan. Metrics should be created around the desired outcomes as part of the alignment—then it becomes crucial to use that information when creating an integrated program plan.
At this point in a program, continuing to measure the success metrics will help to identify if there are problems in achieving success. This will guide the team to course correct earlier if the results are off track.
This step is crucial. Some may think this is simply changing management by another name, but this step ensures that the affected users, stakeholders, and sponsors have bought into the new model or process. They are trained and on board for the use of the new process or system in that they will use it in the desired manner that will allow the organization to measure the value proposition appropriately.
Transformation in good times and bad
Transformation has been the buzzword in our corporate culture for many years. Yet, companies are still using some of the same antiquated methods of delivery to accomplish these mammoth companywide transformations. Unfortunately, without first transforming how processes are delivered within an organization, a key project, a large program, or a corporate transformation will always result in less than stellar results. This means lost time, money, and effort. It’s time to treat Jan (delivery) as an important part of the family! Align delivery with strategy and see more tangible success in good times or bad.
Written by Laura Dribin
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