The single largest cause of project failure

Statistics show year after year that this single largest contribute to project failure is the lack of adequately managing the change. One Deloitte and Touché study that surveyed executives showed that about 2/3 of projects failed because the project did not adequately address the people impacts of the change.

When projects fail to adequately address the impact of change, these things happen:
1. Employees are disengaged. They don’t understand what the change is all about, or why it is important to the organization. Least of all, they don’t know the WIIFM, “What’s In It For Me.”
2. Implementation is delayed. Often preparing the people for the change is not considered until just before implementation, or worse yet, not at all. Those impacted by the change have no idea what is happening, how their jobs are changing, the new expectations, or how they’ll be measured.
3. The change doesn’t stick. Implementation might go well, but people quickly snap back to old behaviors and processes.
4. Organizational leaders may have an inconsistent understanding of the change. This is the root of cross-functional dysfunction.
5. Sponsor behavior is inconsistent.
6. Communications is incomplete, inconsistent or even non-existent.

I founded my company to help organizations – no matter how large or small – be successful with change. Attributes of a project with effective change management include:
1. Employees are fully engaged. They understand what is changing, why and how it impacts them.
2. Implementation details are clear and well known. People know when the change will happen, what they need to do during the implementation of the change, where they can turn for help, and what to do if something doesn’t go as planned.
3. Cross-functional dysfunction is mitigated. Every leader involved with the change fully understands the intended outcome of the change, and how employees in their charge are expected to perform differently. This understanding is mutually shared across the leadership team.
4. Sponsors are actively engaged in driving project success. For details, see the newsletter from two weeks ago.
5. The change is sustained. Employees don’t snap back to old ways of doing things. They adopt and integrate the change in their day-to-day work life. Leaders manage their performance with different measures.

Organizations who are successful often exceed the goals they’ve established for change, whether that be greater revenue, saved costs, increased market visibility, better engagement, or improved customer relations.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation.

Why projects stall, ultimately failing to deliver results

One of my clients long ago attempted a large-scale change in their organization. Early in the project it didn’t go well because while they had reasonable sponsorship, and they hired me to help them manage the change, they had insufficient project leadership. This resulted in the project missing early deadlines. As a consultant focused on helping organizations drive successful change, I alerted the leadership to this gap in their project. Ultimately, they filled a key project leadership role, and the project was successful.

The symptoms I saw in this project, and are common to most projects where there is a lack of project management include:
1. Lack of an overall plan to execute the change, leading to a misunderstanding of requirements, dates, and expectations.
2. Inconsistent delivery. Lack of project standards cause various parts of the organization to implement the change differently, causing confusion among employees.
3. Lack structure. The lack of project standards also confounds accountability for the work that is required to affect the change. People don’t understand who is responsible for what.
4. Uncoordinated. Various parts of the project attempt to implement their changes but are met with resistance and confusion because those impacted are unclear on how it all fits together.

When the project leadership trifecta is complete with a solid project management approach, you’ll observe the following:
1. A clear and well communicated plan that helps the organization understand what will be completed by when, and their role in these changes.
2. Project risks and issues are well documented, and more importantly, well mitigated to better ensure success.
3. A scope change process that judiciously evaluates requested changes to the project, communicating the impact and ultimately adjusting plans when changes are approved.
4. An excellent working relationship between the sponsor and the project manager, where communications is open and accountability is clear.

For more information about how to run projects more effectively, I encourage you to review the Project Management Institute’s website.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How projects fail to achieve results due to lack of sponsorship

One company I worked with a few years ago initiated a large-scale, transformative change, that would impact how they went to market with some of their products and services. They had a great project structure, with project managers, administrators, and well-qualified technical support. They had a change and communications team that was well positioned to help them communicate about the change and prepare the organization. Ultimately, though, the project struggled for two-three years before senior executives decided to cancel the project. It failed to achieve many of the benefits they sought after.

What went wrong? There was insufficient leadership involvement. Yes, there were lower- level leaders who had an interest in the success of the project, but there was no single sponsor or sponsor coalition to hold the team accountable for results, and mitigate project risks. One of the greatest risks which ultimately led to the end of the project was conflicting requirements of lower- level leaders. I call this cross functional dysfunction – which I have addressed separately and in detail in another newsletter.

Projects that have solid project management and change management teams cannot be successful without adequate sponsorship. They will suffer from these conditions:
1. Scope creep. Without a leader to regulate scope, project managers are often powerless when it comes to adding or changing scope. Politics and personal favors become the way to incorporate changes.
2. False starts and missed deadlines. Without proper sponsorship, projects often don’t have the authority to drive deliverables to accomplish the change.
3. Mixed messages. You can have the best change and communication team ever, but if there is inconsistent leadership, employee messaging will also be inconsistent. In the story related above, the communications team struggled to identify and track on key messages to help the organization succeed.
4. Frustrated team. All the conditions outlined above lead to a team that is disenfranchised and frustrated. Most people I meet want to perform well in their jobs, and be recognized for doing so. Without adequate sponsorship, these folks will be disappointed.

Every project, regardless of size, requires a sponsor who is clear on their role as ultimate spokespersons for the change, and holds the project team accountable for delivery. The activities of a great sponsor include:
1. Engaged with the project team and hold it accountable for delivering the change. They will also help identify, mitigate and resolve risks and issues.
2. Clearly communicate with her leadership team the purpose of the change, and her expectations for how her team will lead the organization through the change.
3. Act as a key spokesperson for the project with the employees impacted by the change, communicating progress, benefits, the expected outcomes, impacts (good and bad) to employees, and receiving and integrating feedback into the project management process.
4. Be at the right level to fulfill these activities with credibility.

The organizational level of the sponsor depends on the breadth of the change. The rule of thumb is that ultimately, everyone significantly impacted by the change should have a direct reporting relationship to the sponsor. For example, if the change impacts everyone in the manufacturing operation, then the VP of Manufacturing would be the likely sponsor. If the change impacts everyone in accounting, then the Accounting Executive is the sponsor. You get the idea.

When your project structure includes solid sponsorship, at the right level, you will have a much better chance of achieving the intended results, thus driving the value you planned.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation

How to establish a winning project office

Large scale or transformational projects require a solid project structure to drive to results. These structures are put in place to execute the change, and ensure employees and leaders alike are engaged with delivering and sustaining results.

The project leadership trifecta, pictured here, demonstrates that you need three critical components to drive successful change. You need actively engaged sponsors, a project management structure to drive and track deliverables and results, and a change management office to ensure the organization is engaged and has what they need to execute and sustain the change.

Benefits of a well-managed project structure includes:
1. Employees impacted by the change know what to expect and when.
2. Leaders have visibility to the progress of the change, including measures of readiness, project execution tracking, and risks and issues.
3. Sponsors are clear on their role as ultimate spokespersons for the change, as well as holding the project team accountable for delivery.

These together result in a project that delivers on-time, within budget, and meets quality specifications. This in turn generates the intended value of the project, and often exceeds expectations.

One of my clients has an excellent approach to leading large-scale change that reflects the elements outlined above. A few years ago, we were implementing a large scale, transformational change that was going to impact almost every employee in one of their operating divisions. The sponsor was the division chief who actively engaged with the project team to resolve issues, encourage progress, and communicate with employees. The project management structure was designed to execute quickly and efficiently. Finally, they had a change management team, of which I was a part, that helped prepare the organization for this monstrous change. The project finished on-time, under-budget and exceeded specifications. Even better, employees were well positioned to sustain the change over the long-term, leading to increased benefits.

Over the next few weeks we’ll take a closer look at each element of the project leadership trifecta. This will help you determine how to best structure your next large-scale change or transformation project with the goal of driving the greatest possible value.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to ensure your success as a leader of change

In my neighborhood, Hyde Park, Chicago, sits an impressive example of architecture, the Robie House. Designed by famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Robie House set the standard for the Prairie style home. Wright’s ideas influenced American architecture for decades to come. From the ranch-style homes that spread across the American landscape to today’s suburban great rooms, millions of American homes can trace their ancestry back to Wright’s Prairie homes, of which Robie House is a notable example. This is a notable example of leading change. Wright had a vision of family space in a home and it played out in his designs.

In 1957, Wright said, “The common man is the average man, and the average man lacks vision. It is only when he has vision that he immediately becomes uncommon.” Your success as a leader is partially rooted in your ability to have, express, and execute a vision that drives significant positive change for your business.

A vision is more than a statement that you dream up when sitting with your leaders, or alone in the evening with a cocktail. A vision must have a few important characteristics:
1. It must be forward looking. It broadly describes how the business will look in a few years.
2. It must be realistic. It needs to be achievable, and it needs to be set in the context of the current macroenvironment. I submit, for example, that many of Sears’ issues are related to not having a realistic vision for its future.
3. It clearly provides direction. Your leaders and employees alike must be able to understand the vision in terms that help them make appropriate decisions and act independently. It gives them a shared sense of what is important.
4. It is inspirational. It’s one thing to capture people’s minds, but you must capture their hearts also. Employees will be connected emotionally to the vision and will help the commit to the cause.

Whether you are leading a large organization or a minor change, your vision of success will help you achieve just that… success. Your success might be uncommon, as Wright suggests, but you will clearly prove your leadership.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to encourage transformational resistance, and reap greater rewards

When I was a senior in high school, I took all the classes required to best prepare for college. One was an advanced physics class. Our mid-term exam was brutal. There were only seven questions, so missing one meant receiving a B grade. I studied hard, took the exam, and was confident I aced it. When my instructor, Mr. Williams, graded and returned my exam, imagine my shock and horror when I saw a big fat B at the top of the page.

I was certain I aced this exam. I reviewed the one problem I allegedly missed and went over my work. I could not determine where I went wrong. I enlisted the help of my math teacher, Mr. Nash, and filled up three walls of chalkboards going through my formulas. He helped me see that I was right! With Mr. Nash’s consent, I asked Mr. Williams to come to the math classroom, and I walked him through my problem solving – all three chalkboards worth. At the end, he admitted, I was right.

Mr. Williams agreed I was right but was not willing to change my grade as a result. This was going to affect my final GPA, so I wasn’t about to take this answer without some negotiation. He didn’t budge. It was then that I enlisted the help of my principal, and ultimately through some three-way negotiation, my final grade was changed to the A that it should have been.

I remember to this day the words of my principal. “Excellent work, Steve, don’t ever let the system get you down.” He reinforced the notion that resistance, when properly staged, is beneficial, and can have a dramatic impact on results. Mr. Williams went on to help me obtain one of my first jobs out of high school.

This is a simple example involving four people. What about large scale transformational resistance? One of my clients went through a large scale cultural change, and at the outset, I counseled him to make sure he had mechanisms in place to hear dissenting opinions, and then process this feedback to modify the messages regarding the change. He didn’t modify his goal to change the culture, only HOW he was communicating it.

Points to keep in mind.
– Vision vs. Execution. As a leader, one of your roles is to provide a vision that engages your organization to drive toward a more profitable business. While it’s important to engage your leadership team to figure out how to implement the vision, be sure you have plenty of opportunities to receive and process feedback from impacted employees.
– Don’t punish the resistors. During my corporate career, I once led a large team through restructuring a poorly performing operating unit. One of my leaders called an employee on my team a trouble maker. I called my leader out on this, telling him that it was important for me to hear how the change was affecting my team. Labeling a dissenter as a trouble maker only serves to isolate the leader into thinking that he has all the answers, and demotivates the employee – resulting is less value.
– There are limits. In another case, one of my employees became so emotionally upset about changes we were trying to make that he became physically threatening to others on the team. This is an extreme example; the point is to be sure there are guidelines in place to identify acceptable resistant behavior and language.

When you are planning a large-scale change in your organization, be sure to give voice to employees who may have a legitimate issue with the changes underway. Use this feedback to help drive a more successful transformation, and improve the probability of achieving or exceeding your goals.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

Why it’s wise not to take short cuts when executing change

A few days ago, I was on my way to the barber shop when I saw an accident. A man was jay walking across one of Chicago’s busiest streets, no doubt in a hurry to reach his destination, when he was clipped by a passing truck. Fortunately, he escaped with minor injuries. Sometimes, short cuts just don’t pay off.

I have talked with many executives who want to implement change. Often, they are in “let’s just get it done” mode. They are willing to take shortcuts to speed up the process. Who can blame them? There are market pressures to move faster and faster. On the surface, taking the time to engage employees to drive change appears to be a luxury. Yet this is one of the single most strategic approaches to driving change to an expedient and thorough completion. It may take a little extra time on the front end to engage employees, but the implementation will ultimately be faster, and the solution will be far more sustainable.

The next time you find yourself in a hurry to implement a change, ask yourself these questions:
1. Ultimately, what do I want my employees to do differently or how do I want them to behave differently because of this change?
2. What will encourage them to adopt these changes?
3. What nuances of the change can they design – such as specifics about implementation in their respective areas, helping others on their team enroll in the change, or helping the leaders think through new measures?
4. How will I recognize their work, particularly if they exceed my expectations?

Don’t be like the jay-walker. Short cuts generally don’t pay off. Take the time to think through how you’ll speed up your change through engaging your employees. You will implement the change faster and have a much better chance of sustaining it, resulting in bottom-line financial benefits that you might not otherwise achieve.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How strength and resoluteness help to drive successful change

I recently met my daughter in north central Wisconsin for a weekend of family history research. We spent a full day scouting cemeteries looking for headstones of long deceased relatives. We had remarkable success! We found two previously unknown great-great grandmother’s graves.

Like many Americans, every one of my ancestors was a pioneer. These people experienced change on a scale few of us think about these days. Leaving a familiar and mostly predictable world that was modern compared to their destination, they left loved ones to carve out a new life on the frontier. They had a vision and were strong and resolute in their new purpose.

When leading change, it is crucial to stay strong and resolute. There will be naysayers who might try to derail your vision. There may be other roadblocks. Operational issues may cause concern. Use these disrupters to help legitimize the change.

I love resistance because it helps me clarify my vision, but rarely does it cause a wholesale reevaluation of the change. Operational issues are great because they often prove out the need for the change, or cause course correction. In every case, these situations add material to your catalog of stories you can use to help others through the change.

Call to action:
1. Be sure your purpose is clear in terms of outcomes, and relatable to your employees.
2. Look and listen for resistance. Understand the reasons for it and use it to help build your case for change.
3. Engage front-line employees to identify operational opportunities and challenges with the change. Ask for their help to solve the challenges.
4. Decide now to be resolute and steadfast in driving the change. There is a reason you and your leadership team thought this change was important. Stick to it.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

How to engage your employees to drive change

I recently read a McKinsey study that stated, among other things, “When we choose for ourselves, we are far more committed to the outcome – almost by a factor of five to one.” This is one of the best arguments I’ve heard for engaging employees to drive change.

Early on in my leadership career, I thought I was doing my team a favor when I documented in detail every step they were to use when engaging our client groups. After all, they were busy, and I was there to make their jobs easier. It was a complete failure. Nobody on my team used the new process, and we continued to underperform.

When you don’t effectively engage your employees to drive change, you will experience the following:
– Resistance: Whether intentional or not, and whether active or passive, employees reject the change. They simply don’t buy in and they don’t execute accordingly.
– Lack of progress: Deadlines are missed, customer expectations aren’t fulfilled and value is not achieved.
– Deflection and defection: Employees deflect responsibility for one reason or another, or they completely defect from the change.
– It doesn’t stick. The changes you are trying to make simply don’t stick. It becomes nearly impossible to institutionalize the change.

Continuing my story, my ah-ha moment came when one of my team suggested one or two changes that would help make the process more effective. This caused me to change my entire approach. I brought the team together for a half day offsite meeting and asked them to document the process. The results were 180 degrees different than my previous attempt. The team immediately began using the new process, and our client groups quickly saw the difference.

Here are a few techniques you can use to successfully engage your employees to drive change.
– Ask them to design the solution. As in my example, clearly define the end state, but let the team determine to best achieve the outcomes desired.
– Listening sessions. Communications is a two-way street. People need to know they are being heard, and you need to act on what you hear.
– Change agent networks. Establish a group of influential front-line employees to help define and communicate the change.

The underlying design principle of any of these approaches should be to give employees the latitude, within certain parameters, to choose for themselves what to implement, when and how. This will create the greatest degree of engagement, which in turn creates a change that is more likely to succeed, therefore giving you greater value.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,


How to align leaders to drive successful change

Aside from a lack of clear purpose, which we discussed last week, one sure recipe for disaster is when your leaders are not aligned to the purpose of the change. This cross-functional dysfunction occurs when your leadership team walks out of the boardroom without a clear understanding of how the change will impact them personally, and their organization.

Symptoms of cross-functional dysfunction:
• Conflicting priorities. Lower level employees are not in synch about moving forward with the change. One group behaves differently than the next and when they talk about it, they end up with more questions than answers.
• Lack of cooperation: Because expectations are not clear across the organization, cooperation is missing. For the change to be successful, teams will need to work together differently, but are unable to achieve this new state.
• Political positioning: Humans tend to be political beings. When there is a lack of alignment, people tend to take advantage of the gaps, and jockey for position. They want their voice to be heard over that of their peers because it benefits them or their organization.

Cross-functional dysfunction is relatively easy to fix – as long as you proactively take steps to recognize it and avoid it. Follow these steps:
1. Bring the leadership team together.
2. Ask each leader to describe how the change will affect their organization in terms of outcomes.
3. Ask them to describe how they will impact others on the team and their organizations.
4. Ask them to identify what they need from each of their peers to be successful.
5. As you go through this conversation, you will likely encounter gaps, issues, and risks that prevent success. Document these and work through them in subsequent meetings.

This approach works whether you are discussing structural change such as process or organizational structure, or you are discussing a behavioral or cultural change. Regardless, the key is to have the conversation in terms of outcomes – desired changes in results due to changes in process, structure or behavior.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,