We've reviewed hundreds of projects and seen some real horror stories turned into successes. A while back we categorised the root causes of project failure and published them as “Nine Serial Project Killers”.
Here we consider the catastrophic impacts of
Serial Killer #4: Uncertain Quality Targets
and recent experience to suggest key actions
Lost ability to measure progress.
Some specialist agile consultants had successfully pushed the “cultural imperative for agile change” and a C-level exec took an evangelical role, spreading the new gospel across the firm. They swallowed the assumption the whole organisation had to adopt Agile across the board. Consequently for 24 months they lost the ability to effectively track and measure progress towards their change goals.
Lost ability to manage their strategic partners.
To support their client these partners also adopted the philosophy and with some experimentation changed their delivery approach. The resulting loss of suitable measures and controls meant there was a considerable drop in the quality of the relationship, harsh words in the board room and an unhealthy over-reliance on the commercial contracts (that didn’t accommodate the new ways of working).
Lost focus and drive across the whole of Change.
Getting employees on board for major transformation tends to start with an executive's ability to set out the vision. The exec team were great at selling the dream but didn’t have the right team in place to assess viability or ensure do-ability. People quickly lost belief in the transformation as progress faltered and all momentum was lost across the Change community. It was taking 18 months to get any systems change into production!
The knee-jerk reaction was to publish new targets.
There is little predictability in today’s digital world and they ‘baked in’ key assumptions and models that appeared valid, but in a short space of time would be proven irrelevant. They created a position where the organisation was driving towards a defined end-state that was ultimately not what they wanted or needed.
Horses for courses.
Moving from a top down command and control system to a touchy-feely, ‘team empowered’ model is tough. It’s a seismic shift from how many companies operate. In the right areas it makes absolute sense but it doesn’t need to be a wholesale change across the organisation. Recognising this is key, adopting flexible governance models for certain initiatives that allow variation, AND more traditional governance models where greater structure and control is necessary.
Drive for good.
There’s often a large community of people who just want to be told what to do and how and when to do it. They don’t want to problem solve, and they don’t want to be held accountable. If you do tell them what to do and how to do it, you are inevitably the one responsible when it goes wrong. Much better to support the team with additional ‘rolled sleeves up’ resources and create a culture where early failure is embraced and people are coached to find their own way. Picking early successes with early adopters (who themselves become advocates for change) can showcase ‘the possible’ and convince more cautious staff to engage.
Recognising a state of flux is critical but a lot of senior executives like making decisions. After all,” it’s what we’re paid to do”, and we know it drives tempo and energy. But sometimes it pays to keep a decision open until more facts are known. The trouble is, many of us are hardwired in wanting to know what’s going to happen, we crave elements of certainty, so not knowing can create discomfort amongst the troops. Establishing and communicating the risk appetite and coaching others to embrace uncertainty increases the chances of success.
Setting the mandate.
Whatever the change, communicating the right goals is key to success. Don’t be afraid to specify short term targets and don’t be afraid to specify what’s important to you ‘up front’. Mobilising in the right way is key and starting too soon without the prerequisite thinking and establishing a holistic view of the problem or goal just set the teams up for failure. Better to specify a mix of short-term goals that can keep things on track and demonstrate success, and a few stretch aspirations that will significantly move the organisation forwards. Delegating the definition of the objectives to meet those goals (for example: adopting an OKR approach) is a good first step towards empowering the teams and working more agile.
30 second takeaway
- This blue chip lost visibility of its critical change, was unable to manage its key partners effectively, lost focus across the change community, and in response chose the wrong objectives and targets with some near catastrophic results.
- In today’s digital-led landscape, it’s imperative to ensure change initiatives are mobilised quickly and effectively aligned for success, that your teams are empowered with the right mix of leaders, shapers and followers, and that you regularly explore how to accelerate delivery and defend your timescales and costs. Bringing control and certainty to ensure your projects and businesses succeed.