Success To One: Failure To Another

The very moment I sat down my dinner guest’s agitation could clearly no longer be contained.  “A failure, a failure?  I have delivered a £15 million IT transformation project to scope, to budget and to deadline!  A miracle based on the company’s track record over the last few years!  A failure!” he declared bitterly.   By the main course the agitation had subsided somewhat and the facts had become clearer and I was beginning to see the nub of the divergence between what he saw as his team’s big success and what his CEO’s viewed as failing.  The critical word was the often misused “T” word, transformation. shutterstock_84273679 The project was extremely complex and had been a real challenge to deliver across many sites integrating together a number of vendors whilst managing a seamless transition from the legacy platform.  However, it became clear the longer we talked that there had indeed been virtually no focus on the wider business benefits beyond that directly derived from the new technology solution.    The more I asked annoying questions using phrases like “benefits value chain”, “stakeholder engagement” and “holistic business case” the more obvious it became that whilst the CEO clearly felt he’d invested in a full blown business transformation initiative, his company had actually mobilised and enacted a technology refresh project.  There appeared to have been no shared vision of the outcomes expected from the investment and certainly nothing evolved from that vision into measurable successful delivery of the business value.  It was clear to me that the project team had worked extremely hard and had delivered what can depressingly be a rare event; a technology refresh project within budget to scope and deadline. I am sure we have all come across variants of this tale during our careers, perhaps even been to some degree in the position of my friend as we learned our trade and worked up to a CIO position.  Whenever I hear the word transformation I am now pre-programmed to question the scope, the stakeholder engagement and how success will be recognised at the end of the project.  To some extent this is based on bitter experience as I carry some scars from earlier in my career, don’t we all if we are honest? But it is also because there are so many cautionary case studies in the technology industry that arguably there can be no excuse to repeat the history of others.  Yet there seems to be a steady flow of new examples of transformational woe and these are not errors made by the slightly dim and deranged, these are errors made by highly capable business and technology leaders.  The sparkle of a technologically  challenging project can still blind us to the real business drivers and indeed to the truism that mostly the technology is the easier element.  The hard part is driving behavioural change in individuals, in teams and in organisations.  Indeed I think we can argue that technology mastery whilst often a key element to delivering business change is not the most critical aspect.  That label is reserved for the often over-looked element of excellent project management, a viewpoint argued by this interesting article published recently by Forbes.  However, equally I could offer up examples of talented managers that don’t seem to grasp how to deliver programmes that do have material technology components but which also demand the ability to deliver a holistic vision and achieve organisational change leading to enhanced business value.  So the “T” word needs to be treated with respect and the right team mobilised to truly deliver transformational change rather than just change.   Post was previously published on the Business Value Exchange. Image provided by Shutterstock

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