Tag Archives: project management

Want successful change? Define failure!

‘No one is using the system’

‘This is not working’

‘Everyone is facing issues’

‘This is not working’

‘We need to go back to the drawing board’

I am sure all of you have heard these statements before – typically after the euphoria of a new technology, solution, process settles down and it all starts to move towards the dreaded BAU !! Around this stage, you suddenly start getting (premature) judgements on your months worth of work. More often than not, someone in an influential position declares that ‘this just has not worked’.  Ever wondered why this almost always happens? Here is the answer – ‘We do not spend anytime defining what Failure looks like’

Projects often spend considerable time defining ‘what good looks like’. Everyone (in the project team) is keen to declare success and is even more keen to know how will success look like. While there is nothing wrong in that, here is an unintended consequence –‘Everything that does not look like success is failure!’

This obsession with ‘what good looks like’ creates an illusion of everything else being bad. We enter into a binary world where projects are either success or failure but nothing in-between. I doubt if the world that we live in is so binary. I think there are different degrees of success ( currently termed as failure) as well as failure and it is important that we acknowledge that.  As far as I am concerned, most of the so called failures are not failures at all. Those are just undefined stages of success. This is not to say that there are no absolute failures but those tend to be much less common.

While defining ‘good’ or ‘success’ we usually miss 2 key aspects

  • Journey – Typically projects define ‘what good looks like’ at the destination and the destination could typically be months and in some cases years away. I must clarity that I am not talking about project planning or execution. I am talking about success after the go-live. I am talking about change, adoption and ultimately business benefits. These are typically defined in terms of the destination which is the ‘BAU’. Most of the projects, do not define what success will look like on the journey to BAU. How will things look like 3 months from Go-Live and then how will things look like 6 months from Go-Live and so on..  This makes destination our only reference point and it usually results in the feeling of defeat, despair and desperation!
  • Context – For me success or failure is usually is a function of context. Something that is viewed as a success in one environment might be a out right failure in another. The second issue with the practice of ‘what good looks like’ is that it is usually without the context or is meant only for a single context. For defining success, I would love to see a scenario analysis. We all know the risks and sure we all have plans to manage risk . What we don’t have is – if this risk materialises how does our definition of ‘good’ changes?  I am sure all of you will agree that if we have defined our success without context, we will always view it as a failure if the context changes. Context definitely impacts outputs so it should impact expectations too!

If you want successful change then here is how I suggest you define ‘what good looks like’

  • Have multiple definitions of ‘good’ for different checkpoints after go-live
  • Have multiple definitions of ‘good’ for different scenarios based on your risk register

Your ‘what good looks like’ definition should help you answer this one question – ‘Am I close to where I would be given the circumstances?’. If you are close, then it is not a failure. It is just taking you one step closer to success!

 

Benefits not solutions !!

There seems to be a popular belief – ‘Aim of every project is to deliver solutions’. This is the reason project managers are generally over the moon if the ‘Go-live’ is smooth. There are usually big parties post go-live to celebrate the great work done by the project team. The go-live dates are what the project managers live and die by. The reason being that on go-live date ‘the solution’ gets delivered and world is then a happy place. Here is what usually happens after the euphoria of the go-live is over

  • Users slowly stop using the solution
  • A relook at the solution vindicates the project team as there are no issues with the solution
  • Still no one can figure out why the solution is not being adopted by users
  • No one is sure who is responsible for users not adopting the solution
  • Slowly the ROI equation starts looking wrong.
  • While everyone waits for the ROI, business moves on and the solution starts getting outdated
  • A new project is commissioned to implement a new solution

If you have ever been involved in any sort of transformation exercise, I am sure you have been through this cycle. Have you ever wondered why this keeps happening? Let me give you a clue – Our belief about what a project should deliver is misplaced.

Yes, a project is designed to deliver a solution but that is not why a project exists. A project always starts with a business case which invariably talks about benefits and ROI. That should be a big pointer towards why every project exists. The sole purpose of every project is to deliver benefits. You deliver solutions to eventually deliver benefits. A solution that is not going to be used is as good as useless. It is not good enough to deliver just solutions. The go-live parties are just premature celeration of success which might never be achieved. It is as good a sprinter celebrating at the starting line. We need to reach the finishing line or atleast close (if you are Usain Bolt) to start celebrating. That finish line is when we actually start delivering benefits.

Change Management is that bridge which takes a project from solutions to benefits and a bridge that most project manager forget to build. The popular belief that I laid out at the start of this post is the reason why. If you believe you are working towards delivering solutions, you are never going to bother much about delivering benefits. You will always see that as someone else’s problem. The funny thing is that ‘someone else’ just does not exist and it results in the post-delivery scenario that we just discussed

As I said earlier, it is not sufficient to deliver solutions, your solutions have to deliver benefits. Change Management will help your users actually utilise your solutions and get the benefits which you were looking to deliver. The choice is yours. You can choose to deliver solutions or move up the value chain and deliver benefits. I know what I would do !