Business Change Management Using Weak Signalspost by Chris Curran on August 2, 2010
A Fortune 500 company embarks on an ambitious program to implement a Master Data Management solution. Three years and a $100M later, executive leadership decides that too much money has been sunk into the program and the anticipated objectives have not been realized. The program is shut down. How often have you seen this? Why haven’t we got better at detecting problems before they happen? With all of the talk of business change management over the years, does anyone even know what it means or how to do it?
Too much emphasis is put on a project’s scope, schedule and budget. We believe that the organizational, cultural, and political issues are as important - a project’s early warning signals, or weak signals. The divisive issues are not technology in nature, but around goals, incentives, executive buy-in, decision-making, resources capacity and skills.
How Can Project Managers Detect Weak Signals?
We recently helped a Fortune 500 insurer canvas the crowd for areas that their enterprise web initiative might not be set up for success. Within a few weeks of initial conversations with the Chief Internet Officer and the CIO, we had surveyed 65 project stakeholders, consisting of executives, managers and professionals across business and technology on 7 dimensions:
- Program Economic Model
- Executive Buy-in
- Stakeholder Engagement
- Execution Management
- Business Change Management
- Vendor Engagement
Here are some of the things we heard:
- “No one has ever explicitly explained to me what the ownership is. I know Marketing has ownership and I’m assuming the joint ownership with IT and Business but I’m not sure.”
- “IT areas don’t seem to be cohesive. Their structure, areas of ownership and processes are not understood by the business partners. The dysfunctional feel of the organization leaves one to question their competency.”
- “I am not aware of the chain of command in terms of decisions. Hopefully this will be communicated once the Program Manager comes on board”
The biggest issues were the lack of clarity around the leadership and management structure and lack of consensus across functions and management levels. The business management group was hugely skeptical while the technology management group was quite optimistic. But when responses averaged out, the insights revealed the following:
- Lacking clarity on the means to achieving goals
- Uncertainty around cost-benefit analysis
- Limited consensus on scope, duration, and timing
- Concern over skill and capacity
- Limited definition of business data integration needs
Some of our recommended immediate follow-up actions were to set up meetings amongst key stakeholders to clarify scope, start benefits case validation, and start a proof of concept for business data integration. Another set of actions addressed communications and recommended publishing a year-by-year set of objectives, sending weekly program status report to the steering group, and developing a communication plan to coordinate and align relevant stakeholders. The program leadership took immediate action on the diagnostic recommendations to ensure tighter cross-functional alignment and buy-in from its various stakeholders.
We worked with project management expert Michael Krigsman and his best-in-class company Asuret to conduct and analyze these surveys. It would also be possible to roll your own using Sawtooth and Tableau for example.
Ultimately, the results from the diagnostic itself were not surprising; however they provided validity to constituents’ concerns in a neutral and non-threatening way. It is a simple and effective tool for organizations to monitor warning signals within their large investments.
What is your experience from large and transformational programs? How have you watched out for weak signals in your programs? What would you have done different in the programs that have failed to realize its stated objectives? What other creative project management approaches have you used to improve delivery success?