One of the greatest risks to strategic change is that executive attention moves on after the program is chartered. It is not enough for sponsors to develop strategy and then turn the program over to the implementers. However, when the focus is on tactical delivery, it is easy for leadership to move on to the next set of problems before sustained value is realized. To keep sponsors engaged, program leaders need simple, yet powerful ways to communicate the importance of executive engagement throughout the journey.
To execute programs that turn opportunity into real and sustained competitive advantage, organizations need more robust and nimble approaches to delivering change. High performing organizations shift their focus from methods and deliverables to guiding, motivating and aligning people. Successful change leaders develop cultures of accountability in which people feel responsible for doing everything they can to further strategic priorities. This kind of leadership is harder than implementing tools and processes. It may require learning and teaching new ways of working with people. New organizational forms may also be needed to encourage teams to work together instead of opposing each other.
As markets and companies have emerged from the recent downturn, executives have looked to the future with concern. The slow and inconsistent recovery, combined with the disruptive effects of globalization, technological change, and regulation, has made it clear that what happened was not just another cyclical swing. It was reflective of a deeper economic and industrial reorganization.
Leaders seeking to respond to these shifts are increasingly looking to information and analytics. More information and more meaningful analytics are available to them than ever before. It is clear that decision-oriented capabilities have great power to not only enable companies to survive the new normal but to thrive in the opportunities created by it. However, these efforts have failed at an astounding rate. Generating sustained differentiating and value will require better approaches to delivering enterprise change.
Architecture provides a crucial link between business and technology capabilities, but it also helps bridge the gap between business and technology organizations. In my experience, everyone seems to agree that the two groups need to work more closely together; at least I don’t hear the suggestion that business owners should throw requirements over the wall and come back six months later for acceptance testing. However, this is not too far from what happens in practice, and the results are felt in many organizations regardless of function, industry, or maturity: IT effectiveness is hampered, business stakeholders are frustrated, and the gulf between business and IT grows until it seems that never the twain shall meet.
Marianne Broadbent and Ellen Kitzis write about technical managers vs. trusted executive leaders of the enterprise. Technical managers are experts in the mechanics of IT. They “keep the lights on and do it cheap.” This role is essential, especially in today’s environment of cost-cutting and rationalization of services. However, this role can also minimize the impact for good that technology can have on the organization. Increasingly, information and technology are the business, even in industries where IT has traditionally been on the sidelines. It is rare to have a business capability that is not driven by technology. Because of this, IT must be more than just the plumbing. Far beyond enabling the business, technology, when done right, can transform the enterprise and open up new and powerful ways of doing business.
The value of architecture is in providing structure across people, process, information, and technology so that they operate together to deliver business value. So much of the work being done in the field focuses on software, hardware, and infrastructure that architecture becomes little more high-level systems design. When this happens, business value gets lost. The results are easy to see in many organizations: Business stakeholders find IT irrelevant if not incomprehensible, and they disengage from architecture and implementation activities. At the same time, IT leaders find themselves supporting an unnecessarily complex integration environment and applications that are used in ways that they were not intended. To the extent that architects and technology leaders can impact all of the components of a business capability, not just technology, they will become vehicles for moving beyond frustration and cost focus. In this role they will be empowered to drive much more meaningful value to their organizations and customers.
Every executive who has lived through even a moderately complex business capability implementation program is familiar with the challenges to successful delivery. Many, if not most, of them have scars to show for it. However, despite overwhelming evidence and past defeats, organizations and executives regularly move their programs toward failure. The is no secret formula for success, nor is there a “silver bullet” that if only applied would solve all key program challenges. However, although resolution of fundamental issues may be very difficult, the initial steps are straight forward. They don’t require proprietary methodologies or tools, and they amount to identifying key risks, creating mitigation plans and following through on the execution. Nothing will eliminate risks. The key for executives who are serious about success is to develop excellence in the fundamentals of program leadership, including honestly and meaningfully addressing the obstacles before them.
Although each program is unique, many transformation efforts share fundamental challenges. These are often the result of leadership and management issues rather than technical skill deficits. One of the insights from the study of program failure is that the most influential factors are centered on aligning executive and user stakeholders around objectives, support, and adoption rather than technical implementation skills.
The statistics on business transformation failure are overwhelming. For technology implementations in particular, and where the stakes may be highest, studies consistently report that over half (and up to three-quarters) of all programs will fail to meet stakeholder expectations. Caveats aside, though, one conclusion seems inescapable: something is fundamentally broken when program executive are unable to successfully execute on their business capability goals three out of four times. The consistent trend toward failure is a clear message that program leaders need to get serious about how they ensure the success of their efforts.