By Anuraag Bhatnagar
The strategy looks great, it has all the ingredients of transforming companies business model and will give a competitive edge in the market. There is but one critical step that needs to be taken care of, Execution of Strategy.
A large percentage of strategies either fail or do not reach their desired end state during execution. Roadblocks to Transformation are mostly around people’s resistance to change, Buy-in of transformation logic to name a few. A good transformation team must overcome these roadblocks. Senior management support a good plan and a structured approach to Transformation is the first step in this difficult journey.
Planning is critical. “A fool with a plan has a probability of higher success than a genius without a plan”, an apt saying. The cost of errors grows exponentially as execution progress. It is essential to therefore spend some quality time on planning. Once the setup is well planned the execution becomes relatively manageable. Changes would still be needed as the project progresses but if systems are set up and risks are managed to handle those surprises become much simpler. A transformation team/ Office is the key to success.
During my career Managing large transformational projects as a Project Management professional and change, the leader has taught me a lot. I want to share these learnings in this article. So here we go:
Assess the organization-wide impact of transformation – Any transformation will have an organization wide impact either directly or indirectly. Making an early assessment of business units/ Departments that are going to be impacted due to the change helps anticipate support and resistance to change. It also helps assess transformation office team composition and capabilities that will be needed to run the transformation. It can bring early unexpected findings. In one large business model transformations project we had to add a customer representative to the team. One part of customer organization was going to be majorly impacted by the transformation and it was essential that they are aware of the overall transformation. Since the transformation process was visible to customer, they could take early actions at their end. The transparency gave greater confidence to customers in what we were doing. It does not mean that all transformation needs customer representation. Though it is good to keep them informed if needed.
Define the end game. Early assessments also help to define the “End Game”. Transformations can be handled as a “Project” with a defined end or as a “Product”. In Transformations defined as a “Project”, teams come together for a defined period and then disperse once the project is completed. In a product-oriented approach, Product development happens in cycles of maturity. The definition will vary based on the Transformation mandate. What is important is to define this upfront. Transformation team composition, decision making, and timelines change accordingly.
Keep the Transformation office team small – A good thumb rule for me has been to not have more than 7-8 teams directly under the Transformation leader. A large team requires greater alignment efforts. The focus moves from managing change to cross-organizational alignment. For math-oriented the communication formula (number of communication channels= N(N-1)), N is the number of people communicating eg for 2 people in team communication channels is 2×1 = 2 (A to B and B to A), for N=3 it jumps to 3×2 =6. Large N increases the channels exponentially. This significantly increases the cognitive load on the team. If the transformation is complex and requires a large office, the trick is to break the process into smaller manageable projects headed by one of the transformation team members.
Internal Hiring or External hiring– Once the competency needs are identified for the transformation office members need to be assigned. Assigning people from internal organizations is the most favoured option. They bring organizational experience and knowledge which is valuable for the transition. More important than skill though is attitude. The ability to be a change leader and to deal with uncertainty must be an essential quality. While technical competency is necessary, a person with the right attitude is more valuable. External hiring or consultants to fill the gaps brings the outside-in view. Externals also have a greater ability to smooth over cross-function edges, as they are generally seen to be neutral. In one of the large projects, we did not have enough internal resources, so we had to go out and hire new people. Internal hires made it easy to drive some early wins while externals were recruited and trained over time and proved valuable in long run to bring fresh learnings to the project and take the project to conclusion.
Design early wins – While we know the importance of early wins, Transformation teams rarely design them in the plan. Early wins not only get the team and organization motivated, but they also help keep the nay-sayer contained. However, the winner must be significant and not trivial. In one of my transformation projects, I had a senior management critic of the project. He told me that the plan I had was very ambitious and is never going to work. He had executed a similar project earlier and it had taken 3 times the time that I was planning. We had worked hard on the plan, and we were confident that it was executable. We agreed that if we managed to meet the timeline for the early win milestone, he will commit to being our supporter. We managed to reach the milestone before time. Then on, he was the biggest supporter of the transformation project and helped in some tricky cases later.
Define Key Transformation measurement metrics and report diligently – It is not only essential to define key Progress metrics but also essential that all stakeholders have an updated view of the progress. Reporting and showing progress gives a sense of achievement to the team. It Is not necessary to show only positive metrics. Visibility to things not going well is equally important. This not only builds the credibility of the team but also allows stakeholders to support in time. “Don’t know- can’t help”. If problems are hidden it becomes much more difficult to address a solution for them. Metrics could evolve over time, and it is essential to keep them relevant and current. Limit the number of metrics as far as possible.
Establish tools and guidelines for communication – Communication has become instant and on fingertips. There are a plethora of communication tools and applications that can be used. An early definition is essential to keep all on the same page. Defining guidelines for communication can avoid some potentially angry discussions on instant messaging and I am sure we all relate to this.
Be Agile and Flexible– As transformation progress, new information is discovered which require a mid-course correction. In every transformation project, a time comes when this happens. The transformation team needs to make choices whether to continue the original track or make a pivot. Organizations should have the ability to be agile and flexible. A/B testing is a good tool to test and assess hypotheses before any large-scale changes are undertaken.
There are other areas like documentation, Usage of applications on the cloud, management of partner ecosystems, Remote working policy and many more such areas which come into play during a transformation process.
Transformations are complex. With the fast pace of change and constant adjustment to market forces, they are here to stay. Successful companies will be the ones that get this right. Being a part of the transformation team is an exciting and satisfying experience. It comes with related stress but the satisfaction and opportunity for self-development are immense. A good Transformation leader can lead the team to greater success.
Have a happy start to your large or small transformation…..
Forbes articles various
Thinking big with Business transformation-six keys to unlocking breakthrough Value