Fuzzy Front End ate my Project, part 2

How to overcome change inertia… by John Curran

The Challenge Areas

In the first part of this article, I discussed the concept of the fuzzy front end and how projects often get rejected before they’ve even started. This can be a good thing, where the numbers don’t stack up or it’s not aligned to the organisation’s strategic objectives. But too often, there are genuine opportunities to deliver value that get missed because key elements of an effective decision making process were not undertaken. Below, I provide an overview of the five key areas that need to be assessed to ensure that viable projects and programmes get approved and move into delivery. 

Leadership

Strong leadership, a clear vision, and a compelling story are needed to turn an idea into a well understood, supported and ultimately approved, change initiative. Reaching the critical mass of consensus across an organisation to proceed with a transformative project, whether it be a departmental endeavour or an enterprise wide programme, requires senior level engagement.

Other aspects of the leadership role that need to be in play include: the drive to see a vision fulfilled; the guidance to resolve issues and business decisions; and the general figureheadery that project teams rely on in order to overcome organisational inertia.

Governance

We see a considerable amount of effort going into the approvals processes for initiatives in organisations that have, on the face of it, well defined business change processes. The issues tend to be the capability and experience required to develop papers that provide senior managers and executive with the clarity and confidence to approve a proposal. There is often intensive rework of papers, re-analysis of findings, last minute clarifications around numbers, all of which can slow the progress of programmes, eventually timing-out as other priorities take over.

A concerted and well-structured stakeholder engagement approach to ensure that formal governance events progress as planned is often overlooked, allowing legitimate challenges from other areas of the business to derail progress.

Solutioning

The articulation of the proposed solution is rarely a problem. It tends to get the lion’s share of the focus, and suppliers can be very willing to provide the collateral to support wider understanding. What is often less well thought through is the how. For certain stakeholder groups, a detailed understanding of the impact on their business area is needed and lack of clarity can be a stumbling block.

Generating proof of concepts or example case studies from peer organisations goes a long way to building the confidence required to progress to delivery. An honest appraisal and mitigation of the risks and pain associated with organisational and technology change can generate more confidence in the approach being proposed.

Customer Involvement

By customer, in this context, I mean those groups that end up being the users of the delivered solution or service. Involvement of these groups in the articulation of the business problem, the co-design of the solution and the agreement of the business benefits is probably the most important set of activities in building the organisational consensus for change.

The scope of the engagements should also be considered . In nearly all cases it will span frontline delivery through to the executive team and requires iteration to ensure all concerns are understood and addressed.

The effort, time and iteration required to ensure that there is a coalition across the business is an overhead and can be a significant time sump. However, evidence shows that shortcutting the efforts involved in engaging the key stakeholders is a false economy.

Project Management

The rigour associated with the delivery stage of a programme of change is rarely reflected in the front-end activities. In many ways, the good practice around activity management, governance, communications, scope and change management generate most value while getting a new initiative off the blocks.

There are as wide a range of disciplines required at the early stage as there are at any other. This can have a cost that is uncomfortable to bear when there is no surety that the outcome will or should be achieved. In addition to the project and change management activities mentioned above, contributions are required from business analysts, solution architects, financial modellers, commercial support and many others. The requirement will obviously vary depending on the scale and type of project, but specialist capability will be part of the mix in delivering a successful proposal.

In Summary

The likelihood of a positive outcome for a new initiative is driven by a number of factors. The absence of active and senior sponsorship/leadership, the structured approach to stakeholder management, good project management or co-design and planning with the impacted business are significant indicators that an initiative will struggle in the early stages to gain traction.

It’s fair to say the opposite is true as well. A well-structured approach to developing a project proposal will in turn increase the likelihood of a project progressing to delivery.

Say Hi

If you’d like to challenge John about some of his ideas on challenging areas or whether “figureheadery” is really a word, he’s available at john@the4oc.com.