• Ken Leung

Take control of your transformation

Often organisations kick-off a change programme to tackle a specific need. It starts off being reasonably contained with a reasonably clear objective. What tends to be missing is a robust overarching design that sets the overall business context for the change. Then more programmes are added to tackle other specific needs. As more programmes are initiated, the overall objective becomes unclear. It becomes difficult to understand the dependencies or how each programme contributes to the impact of collective changes made to the systems and processes of the organisation, as well as the strategic consequence on the workforce. This then creates a complex environment to manage the safe landing of change onto the business-as-usual environment. At the one end, the leadership find it difficult to see ‘the wood for the trees’ as they are updated on the details of individual programmes and, at the other end, the impact of the collective changes from the various in-flight programmes on the workforce can be incredibly stressful and disruptive, despite the heroic efforts of the change community.

So in this situation, what can an organisation do to pragmatically get control of the transformation agenda ? Often, there is no time or appetite to press the pause button. Equally, there is usually no appetite to retrofit an overarching design to provide much needed context for all the changes that the business has mobilised. The only option in this situation is to try and get control whilst the transformation is in full flow. But how ?

Is the transformation focused on the right things ?

The immediate step is to work with the leadership team to define the outcomes that they want to achieve and determine when they want or need to achieve them. This information can be organised into a visual Outcome Roadmap (see figure 1), outlining the outcomes to be achieved, along a timeline or financial calendar, with dependencies between outcomes. The Outcome Roadmap can then serve as a proxy for an overarching design that can be used to set the context for transformation. This context provides the means to understand how each of the in-flight change programmes help to deliver the desired outcomes, or not. It provides the leadership team with an opportunity to review the alignment of the objectives of each inflight change programme with their desired overall outcomes. Do they align ? Are there inflight changes that fall outside of these outcomes, and if so are they still relevant ? Equally, are there outcomes that will not be met by any of the in-flight change programmes ? By raising these questions, the leadership can determine if the right things are being done and therefore if the right investment decisions are being made. Continuing in-flight change activity that is not aligned to the desired outcomes takes investment away from change activity that should be undertaken but not currently planned.

The Outcome Roadmap will shed light on the current direction of the transformation activity and the degree to which this aligns to the desired outcomes. With this insight, the leadership will need to make some hard decisions on the fate of current change activities, especially those that only partially, or do not, align with the desired outcomes and which have already consumed significant outlays of investment.

Are the right things being planned for the right time ?

The visual nature of the roadmap can also help to determine the priority and logical order that the changes should land, in order to achieve the desired outcomes. It helps with questions such as ‘what outcomes are required in the next quarter as opposed to those that can wait until the end of the year ?’

To enable it to do this, each outcome on the roadmap needs to be qualified by a milestone or milestones from a relevant in-flight change programme or multiple programmes. This qualification helps the leadership to determine whether the current plans are on track to deliver the desired outcomes at the right time. If the planned milestones for a particular outcome are later than desired, then these may need to be re-planned. If this is not possible, for example, due to the interdependencies between milestones across programmes and/or those between milestones and multiple outcomes, then the leadership may choose to accept that the associated outcome will be achieved at a later date. The Qualified Outcome Roadmap (see figure 2) provides a context for the leadership to review and discuss the prioritisation of the outcomes, informed by the realities of delivery. Once again, to make it work, the leadership needs to be prepared to make some difficult decisions on priority.

Is the total the sum of the parts ?

Whenever a number of change programmes are launched without being informed or shaped by a clear and robust design, it is difficult to tell if the resulting changes from these programmes results in a coherent future operating environment. How do we know if the changes will maintain or improve the integrity of our end-to-end processes or ‘value streams’ or whether they will create discontinuities that threaten to create a disconnected future operating environment, with fragmented value streams ?

Without some form of assurance, the transformation may deliver the desired outcomes, in the desired time but not necessarily to the desired level of quality. One way to assure the Outcome Roadmap is to identify the key values streams within the business and analyse the impact on these by the planned changes. Any discontinuities identified could then be addressed by an adjustment of the scope of relevant programmes to either introduce requirements that may be missing or to revise or remove conflicting requirements. The resulting Assured Outcome Roadmap gives a level of assurance, but it does not provide a substitute for a clear and robust top-down design.

How do we land the transformation safely ?

Having a Qualified and Assured Outcome Roadmap, goes a long way to getting control of the transformation. It answers the questions of whether the transformation is focusing on the right things at the right time. The next question is how do you ensure that the planned changes can be landed safely, such that the impact on the business-as-usual environment is not compromised ?

For example, would you consciously choose to land changes to the sales process just before or during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and or the run up to Christmas ? Equally would you choose to hit Customer Services with a new system, at the same time as executing a major restructuring of that function ? My guess is that you would probably not choose to do any of these. However, if formal consideration is not given to the safe landing of change, this could happen. At worst, the volume of disruptive change could be so high that the business operation is compromised, damaging the customer experience, the interaction with suppliers and creating a very stressful environment for staff. This is the point where the level of change has reached saturation.

By optimising the landing of specific outcomes with the impact that the resulting change has on the workforce, customers and suppliers, it would be possible to create an Optimised Outcome Roadmap(see figure 3), where change is managed below the level saturation. One way to achieve this optimisation is through change absorption planning, where the impact of each piece of planned change is assessed against the backdrop of the whole transformation. Peaks of planned change could be smoothed out where necessary to reduce their impact. This will not only reduce the risk of change but also improves the absorption of that change into the business-as-usual environment.

The world doesn’t stand still …

Once the Outcome Roadmap has been constructed, it is important to ensure that it is kept up to date, if it is to remain useful. Firstly, new outcomes will need to be introduced onto the roadmap to meet new business needs, for example to respond to the competitive and regulatory environment. These will need to be vetted, qualified by milestones, assured and optimised. Secondly, even the best laid plans are subject to delivery complications which result in delays and missed milestones. Here, the impact of delays will need to be assessed to determine the optimal revision of the Outcome Roadmap.

Finally …

It’s not easy to control a transformation that has already ‘bolted’, but creating a Qualified, Assured and Optimised Outcome Roadmap is one way of doing it. However, this approach is not a mechanical process. For it to work, the leadership must be fully engaged and supportive. Otherwise, the in-flight programmes will not recognise the legitimacy of the roadmap and continue with their current course of action.

Ken Leung is a Co-founder Outvie Consulting and an expert in business design and transformation.

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