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Transformation initiatives are difficult to implement successfully and have a shockingly high failure rate, which, while difficult to accurately measure, is generally thought to be well north of 50 percent. Many major corporations are littered with the remnants of such failed ventures. Yet, the pace of change across the industry requires companies to undertake initiatives of this scale in order to remain competitive.
Unlike IT initiatives which are confined to one department, transformation initiatives require broad change and collaboration across an entire enterprise. These transformation efforts, by their nature, attempt to impact not just people, processes and technologies, but the culture of an organization. A key factor in enabling this is creating transparency and trust between business and IT leadership, not just during the project but after it. All of the following checklist of best practices improve transparency and communication during the course of a major IT transformation, and greatly increase the probability of long-term success.
- Have Business Lead and IT Enabled. All too often, IT is left in the uncomfortable position of the business looking for IT to tell them what to do based on vague requirements. Business leaders should clearly define vision and articulate priorities with sufficient detail that is actionable by all areas of the company.
- Establish Disciplined Scope and Design. A common cause of project or program failure is inadequate management of both scope and design. As projects progress, discipline helps to avoid the “boiling down the ocean” dilemma as design teams identify an ever-growing list of wants and features from the discovery process.
- Assign Accountability and Authority. All too often, organizations assign accountability without the requisite decision-making authority. This is particularly true of companies with complex expense control mechanisms and/or monolithic control structures. Every project should define a Business Sponsor who can make decisions and commit capital without burdensome or overly restrictive approval processes.
- Streamline Decision-Making. Decision-making should be streamlined and invested in the leaders at the appropriate level within the impacted units. Escalation processes and governance should provide reasonable checks-and-balances. The assumption should be that decisions are made with “good intent,” though not all will be perfect or have the benefit of extended deliberation.
- Enable Planning Agility. A crucial assumption in planning a battle is that any plans you develop will immediately change the moment you meet the enemy. Transformation projects share this characteristic. A culture of adapting to change is crucial; any planning should imbue teams with the speed and agility necessary to respond to change without devolving into crisis or chaos.
- Embrace Change Management. Transformation initiatives involve a complex ballet of extensive planning, execution, and leadership commitment. People need support and guidance to adapt to change and resolve feelings of anxiety. Processes should define methods for managing, controlling, and integrating changes. Comprehensive change management capabilities are essential for success in each area.
Change is hard and takes time. Transformational change is extremely hard and requires a surprisingly long runway. It is made harder by a tendency for business leaders to view IT as the keepers of arcane knowledge which they have neither time nor inclination nor need to understand, but transformational change is impossible without Business and IT working hand in hand. IT leaders need to share information with business leaders in a common language that facilitates their understanding of the issues, challenges, and options. This transparency builds trust between the Business and IT and enables business leaders to make intelligent, informed decisions. Turbulence is inevitable, but mature organizations with sound leaders can overcome the challenges associated with transformation initiatives.