How to assess the status of transformation programs

Craig GlindemannNot unsurprisingly, many organizations at one time or another question the status and success of their transformation initiatives. Are we heading in the right direction? Are we spending too much? Is the status report really highlighting all the challenges we face?

Here are four key tests that program directors and their sponsors can use to evaluate the true status of their transformation program:

  1. Do we really know what we are trying to achieve in process and capability terms?
    It may sound obvious, but many programs suffer from not having a baseline of where they started, or a clear description of “what good looks like” when they have finished. Too often, program directors are preoccupied with the implementation of technology; so the goal becomes going live on the agreed date, rather than achieving the transformational outcome that the board expects. Program directors need to set out a vision of where the project is heading. But, more importantly, they need to articulate how things will improve when the project reaches its destination. For example, “Today, we are at level one in terms of our maturity, and at the end of the program, we want to be at level three.” Having some lower-level detail helps to put realistic boundaries on the scope of the program.
  2. Do we know where we are?
    It can be very difficult to assess progress before it’s too late to change course. With technical dependencies meaning that many of the key outputs are not available until the final third of a program, there is always a risk that the amount of work necessary to complete the program is underestimated. To counter this, transformation programs must have some measure of earned value and a methodology (and usually some training) for team members to calculate their estimated time-to-complete for a given task. This open, honest view is needed to ensure that the right scoping and timing decisions are made along the way.
  3. Is it what the business needs? How do we know?
    A transformation program is only as successful as the outcomes it delivers. Many programs run into trouble late in the delivery cycle, when it’s clear that the outcomes don’t match the original vision. Too much is spent to achieve the go-live targets and, consequently, scope is reduced to match the budget. To counter this risk, transformation programs should look to explain the future state to the business (and with as diverse a stakeholder group as possible) at least three times: first, to prioritize scope and divide the project into manageable and implementable chunks; second, when detailed design is reaching conclusion and before significant effort is expended in IT build; and third, for user acceptance testing when the business and IT solutions can be tested together.
  4. Is there an independent voice of reason?
    The bigger a transformation program gets, the harder it is to admit there is a problem. Political and emotional pressures on programs can mean that status issues are hidden away until it’s too late to do anything about them. Often, the simplest way to establish the truth of the status report is to appoint an independent quality advisor. This advisor can monitor progress continually and ensure that the program director has all the information necessary to make day-to-day decisions.

So, to keep your transformation program on track, make sure you are clear on your objectives, track progress accurately, understand what resources you need and be honest when reporting status.

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