Certain business transformations are handicapped from the start.  Business transformations by their very nature require central strategy coordination – multiple stakeholders, large budgets, high pressure, and often a technology implementation component.  Since true business transformations affect numerous and disparate functions, there needs to be at least some type of representation from all affected functions.  The ‘glue’ keeping these affected functions moving toward the same strategy from thought to finish is centralized strategy coordination via a program management office.  Ironically, program management offices, all-too-often blindly considered panaceas, can actually handicap the business transformation from the very start. 

8 frequent barriers to business transformation, and how to avoid the pitfalls:  

  1. Not aligning to strategy. While maintaining alignment across functions is important, the biggest emphasis needs to be maintaining real alignment between each function and the overall strategy.  A band might have all of its instruments in tune, but if the bassist and guitarist aren’t playing in harmony, then it won’t matter that each instrument is in tune.
  2. Treating workstreams as silos.  The dreaded (and often unread) status report is full of facts and explanations, but in doing so it often masks what’s really important.  Avoid this by connecting the dots across the workstreams, and share what you’ve learned with others in the likely case that no one else has. 
  3. Ineffective status meetings.  While sharing status is important, allotting specific time for issue resolution is critical.  We have all attended these status-focused meetings: mechanical format, devoid of anything truly insightful, too frequent, and attended by many yet only a very few are actually engaged.  These meetings get de-prioritized by attendees over time, rendering them ineffective.  Avoid this by focusing on issue resolution.  Invite only those who are critical and ask that they send a backup when necessary.  Also determine when impromptu ‘drive-by’ discussions or meetings to address a specific topic would be more effective.
  4. ‘Lost’ decisions.   Meeting facilitators may share next steps via email after a meeting, but how often do they include decisions made and key learnings?  Rarely.  Yet these are actually the whole purpose of the meeting.  Capturing these becomes very helpful as a reference when people are seeking context for why a certain decision was made – especially if they could not attend.  It also helps keep people up to date on what’s really important. 
  5. Accepting ‘sunshine reports.’ In many cases, the initiative could be going very well and according to plan.  But too often there is wariness to acknowledge that progress is not really where it needs to be.  The program management office needs to challenge the all-positive status ‘sunshine report.’  Once workstreams become comfortable with acknowledging their shortcomings, there is much more transparency and the sun shines on real issues so they can be addressed.
  6. Harboring unresolved issues.  Fear of ‘bothering’ the sponsor is a common reason why issues are not escalated.  The key is to understand which issues to escalate and to know which the team can resolve without sponsor intervention.
  7. Viewing project plans as art.  Elaborate project plans are often developed at the inception of a business transformation initiative.  They are put on people’s walls like artwork, to be admired.  Very quickly key elements of the initiative can change, which means the plan should be updated too.  Plans need to be living, breathing documents.  One major milestone needs to be sooner?  Update the plan.  The strategy has evolved?  So should the plan. 
  8.  Not having top initiatives top of mind.  Having these in a written form and accessible quickly helps in a number of ways.  First, it enables them to be shared often without any notice.  Having them written down also means they have probably been viewed (even previewed) by the team, so there is a likelihood that the team has characterized the issues appropriately given potential politics.

While certain business transformations are handicapped from the start, knowing how to set up an effective program management office can help.  Make sure that the ‘glue’ for the initiative’s affected functions is keeping them aligned to the strategy, engaged, and on an evolving plan.  Otherwise, that ‘glue’ can inadvertently freeze real transformation from starting.