Unlocking Transformation Success

Transformation projects are common among all businesses. But successful transformation projects are more elusive. Kevin Hayden, Technical Business Analyst at Saros Consulting, talks about how the success of any transformation project hinges on integrating new technology with existing processes, and bringing end users along the transformation journey.  

Even as the number of transformation projects increased since COVID-19, the long-term impact of these projects is not living up to expectations. In the latest McKinsey Global Survey, only 12% of organisations said they sustained their transformation goals for more than three years. And an average 42% of financial benefits are lost during the latter stages of a large-scale change effort. 

 There are a number of reasons why a transformation project fails to deliver on its objectives, but chief among them is assuming that implementing new technology will fix all of the existing problems a business has. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Long-lasting change needs more than cutting-edge solutions. Any new technology needs to be integrated seamlessly into existing business processes. And the change needs to happen from the bottom up, where end users are consulted from the beginning and indeed throughout the process.  


User First, Technology Second 

Communications is the key to the success of transformation projects. For any new technology to be effective, it needs to make a process better, end users need to see that it addresses the issues they are experiencing and, the new technology needs to make their jobs easier. Legacy technology is often kept on because users have become used to it. They understand its limitations and work around them. But these workarounds may be adding significant time to a task that could be completed much faster, or could even be automated, freeing up people to work on value-adding tasks.  

In talking with users, the project team can get a greater understanding of the current processes, their bottlenecks, and where the real issues lie. Process mapping can be a useful tool to gain an insight into the individual steps of a customer or user journey and highlight areas where improvements can be made. Involving end users at this stage is essential to understanding the way in which they use the system, and discovering how they think it could be improved.  

From there, project teams can establish the key requirements that need to be met, and can engage with providers to find a solution, whether that’s off-the-shelf, hybrid or bespoke. This is where vendor expertise can prove invaluable. Project teams can quickly assimilate the requirements and, depending on the scale of the task and the expertise available on site, either help develop a customised solution that meets the unique business needs or engage with third party vendors to supply / modify an existing solution that can fit the needs of the business. 


Know Your Stakeholders  

Being open and transparent with all key stakeholders at an early stage is vital too. Outline what the new technology can do, and critically, what it may not be able to do. Their buy-in will be a critical factor in the success of the project. Stakeholders can champion investment of all the required resources, including time, effort, financial at board level, and push through necessary supporting initiatives including adequate testing and end user training. Equipping them with the right information is vital and can significantly impact the negotiation process. By informing your stakeholders of the technical, financial, or resource-related limitations of the existing system(s) as well as potential opportunities a new initiative can bring, they set a realistic framework within which expectations can be managed.   

Not only that, but the relative importance of stakeholders can also change throughout the project’s journey. A certain stakeholder’s influence might become more or less critical depending on the project phase, for example. As soon as the scope of a project is defined, project owners should map the stakeholders, anticipating who they’ll be in advance and prioritising them on level of influence and interest. Some stakeholders won’t come into play until later in the project lifecycle but building the relationship from the outset can help them feel involved from the beginning – and ultimately affect their buy-in. Most importantly, business stakeholders need to be nurtured. Heads of departments affected by the technology should be brought along the journey. During the early stages of the project, if they don’t buy into the importance of the change, they won’t convince their teams. If the benefits aren’t understood and the end user stakeholders aren’t involved, they won’t invest the energy to make change happen. 

Stakeholder management and support is one of the key metrics of a successful project, so making sure you get the right buy-in and tick the right boxes — at the right times — is crucial. 


Transparency Fosters Support  

What does success look like? This is one of the most important questions for any transformation project. In fact, for each stage of a project, success should be clearly articulated. It’s also important to be clear about how progress and success is measured. A project progress chart should be written down and available to all key stakeholders, ensuring complete transparency. In committing the success factors to paper, unrealistic expectations can be weeded out early, and realistic goals can be identified. It also means that everyone is clear about the definition of success for a particular project or project phase.  

A project rarely fails completely. There may be failures at different stages but learnings from these failures can and should be brought into subsequent stages. Creating an environment where bad news can be shared can help to avoid situations where failures are not reported early enough, or at all, and are carried through the stages, potentially leading to the losses of those financial benefits we talked about earlier. Working for a bank in Australia years ago, my team were faced with a particularly time-pressured project. Establishing this type of supportive environment, where honest and transparent feedback and communication was encouraged, was instrumental in our team being in a position to make some hard choices and decisions early on which meant the end date was achieved.  

Depending on the nature of a project, internal resistance to change can rear its head. That’s why change management is an important factor in any transformation project. People fear change, this is well documented. But there are ways in which the end users can be brought along on a project, central to this is open communication, and training.   


Don’t Neglect, or Rush, Technology Acceptance  

A transformation project doesn’t end when the new technology is implemented. There is a wider need to continue to monitor, evaluate and refine any new technology. How a system works in a test scenario can be different from how it works day-to-day where unknowns can emerge and affect efficiency. One of the most important parts of any post-implementation phase is ensuring users are trained and supported on the new system.  

Over the years I’ve worked on projects where all the money is invested in the system itself, with none left over for training. Successful implementation of any new technology centres around users being able to use the system. On a previous project I worked on, a client company rolled out a new software tool but failed to train staff on it. As a result, time was being wasted and many staff developed inefficient and tedious workarounds. Management was eventually convinced to invest in a training session for key users on the new system; in just one morning session 80% of users’ issues were addressed.   

Transformation projects can be complex and can raise a multitude of challenges. Each project is of course unique: every business has different goals, requirements, and different people. At Saros, we work with clients from across industries and continents helping them shape and deliver projects with positive and lasting impact. One thing we know is true – at its core, a successful transformation project shares the same key characteristics. It’s collaborative, and involves all relevant parties, from stakeholders to end users. It’s aligned to business needs and has a purpose – it either solves a problem, makes a process more efficient, or helps the business establish a new revenue stream or enter into a new market. It’s well-planned and transparent. The success of the project has been articulated and is monitored at each stage, and it brings users along on the transformation journey. Wrapped around all of these characteristics is constant communication, between all parties, at all stages.  

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