Turning round failing change programmes

Programme recovery needs structure, pace and sensitivity

No organisation embarks on a project or programme to fail. Objectives are established, risks are assessed, teams are assembled, budget is allocated. Indeed, at the outset goals and objectives are generally clear and the strategy well defined. Somewhere down the line however, things often start to go wrong. According to one global report done by PricewaterhouseCoopers only 2.5% of companies successfully complete 100% of their projects and a further study put the cost to the global economy of IT programme failures at an eye watering $6.2 trillion a year.

Large scale programmes rarely run smoothly. They typically involve a complicated blend of people, processes and technology and potential disaster scenarios tend to evolve gradually, making it difficult to identify the root cause of the problems and initiate corrective action.  Throwing more resource at the problem seldom fixes the situation, as failings are often subtle and interconnected.  Once off track, turning a programme around can feel all but impossible.

The clarity an outside perspective brings

Getting a failing programme under control is all about conducting a blame-free, detailed review of the situation and then initiating a series of appropriate corrective actions to get things back on track and working towards the original objectives.

While technology issues tend to fall under the spotlight, we know that technology itself is rarely the cause of significant IT programme problems. Instead, it’s usually the management of the people and processes involved that trigger the most complicated and far-reaching difficulties.

The focal point for transforming potential failure into success is being able to objectively tune back in to the needs of the business – regardless of what may have gone wrong in the interim. It’s about being structured, sensible and realistic – asking the right questions to protect the existing investment, limit risk, keep costs under control and ultimately keep focused on leveraging the maximum RoI to turnaround the situation and manage it through to a successful conclusion.

It’s also important to understand that it can be difficult to come to terms with failure scenarios.  So tackling these needs to be done with sensitivity; managing the diagnostic review and implementing the recovery plan with consideration and avoiding the blame culture so often associated with programme failure.  And the recovery needs to be effected with structure and pace in order to release value back to the business as originally anticipated.

Telling it how it is

For example, we were asked to review a very high profile technology transformation programme for a global financial services data provider that had run into trouble whilst trying to consolidate its data centre footprint and adopt cloud technology across its extensive product portfolio.  We worked with the business to understand what had gone wrong and, from there develop a recovery plan to get the programme back to where it needed to be.

From the outset it was clear that the programme had been approached purely as a technology implementation and that management had not fully engaged with the organisation’s operational teams and product business units to articulate the vision, business objectives and anticipated benefits.  In short, the programme had not been structured to consider the needs of the business or focused on the required outcomes, and it most definitely hadn’t taken into account the scale of the change required or the impact this would have on the organisation.

In particular, at the point where the business needed to start the migration onto the new technology, the operational teams and product business units weren’t on board with the programme. Consequently, whilst costs had been incurred the business benefits were now at risk.

We restructured the programme to ensure it had the right focus on business change and, worked with all stakeholders to developed a delivery plan they could all sign up to and established a management organisation that could drive the implementation forwards. Once the programme was under control we provided a seamless transfer of ownership back to the client’s team, complete with a problem solving framework to prevent similar situations happening in the future.

Travelling in hope is not a strategy

When faced with a failing change programme business stakeholders quite rightly want to know how the situation has come about.  All too often the answer is ‘one day at a time’ – failure scenarios tend to happen gradually and are often not picked up until it’s too almost late.  Experience shows that addressing the problem sooner rather than later and working together to understand the root cause of failure and develop a sensible corrective action plan, will get your programme back on track.

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