How often have we seen a top leader comes across an idea while reading a book or attending a conference and falls in love with it? We see a flurry of activities starting with the launch of a new programme, budgets for it and a special project team for it. Pilots are launched, results are force-fitted to wear the look of success and a large-scale implementation starts. Rarely do these programmes become mega-success stories.
Do we need them?
Someone said, “You don’t need to follow trends to be stylish.”
Most leaders want to see major transformations happen in the business and earn the trophy of success for their rule. They want to start new initiatives as fast as possible because they believe that the window of opportunity remains open for a short while. They are right that businesses are operating in a dynamic and uncertain environment. As a result, the leaders take risks and move fast.
Point taken, but one has to adopt the right amount of diligence in evaluating the relevance of the programme, defining the objectives and laying down the measures of success up front.
Just because new technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, augmented reality and cloud computing are the new trends, we do not deploy them. The market leader might be using machine learning technology; the media sees it newsworthy and reports it. We do not have to lose sleep over it and be impatient that we will miss the bus of progress.
Sometimes, the market intelligence could be half-baked, for example, the company quoted in the news might be piloting machine learning in just one or two business processes or a few regions. Such market reports about just one or two companies do not qualify as a trend. Secondly, even if we are not using machine learning, it is not prudent to assume that we are missing out on the benefits of new technology.
Another significant consideration is to evaluate if our organisation is ready for the deployment of new technology. If we start the transformation project with an unclear architecture amidst unfavourable conditions, we risk the success of the programme and lose a lot of money, time and other valuable resources in the process.
Leaders have to roll up their sleeves
I have seen leaders get an idea in their heads and ask one of their trusted lieutenants to own this pet project and start a pilot. They delegate the responsibility and review the progress from the head office without adequate integration of the deliverables of the new project with the business results. Such projects even if successful, deliver limited results.
To generate the optimum results, the deliverables of the project have to be the KPIs of the business leader or the functional leader who sponsors the project. For example, a programme to reduce errors, costs and cycle time have to be owned up by the COO (Chief Operating Officer) or CFO (Chief Finance Officer) of the firm if not the CEO (Chief Executive Officer). A programme to introduce new channels of connecting with customers, or attracting new segments of customers or increasing customer retention has to be owned by the Head of Sales, or the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), or the Business Head.
Sometimes, organisations undertake digitisation or automation projects to either improve an existing system or comply with changes in the regulatory environment. These projects become must-do and normally are assigned to the IT teams to execute. However, some of these become troublesome to implement because the stakeholders do not get fully involved in the design stage; sometimes, the stakeholders limit their participation during the development process. During the implementation, the stakeholders raise multiple red flags and as a result, significant reworks are carried out; precious time gets lost. Hence, someone at the CXO level has to sponsor any transformation project.
Proactive Communication is extremely critical for the success
A thumb rule is to form the project team drawn from different levels in every stakeholder unit even if the members are required to contribute infrequently for the success of the programme. This ensures involvement and reduces the risk of criticism and cynicism at a later date.
Secondly, the Project Leader being at the CXO level must use his or her influence and authority judiciously to keep the cross-functional team fully involved in the programme and enthused about its success. He or she has to actively review the roadblocks and work towards removing them rather than delegating them to people at the junior levels without the necessary influence or depth to resolve the issue.
Stakeholders have to stay involved all through the process by regular bulletins which go out from the project team. During the implementation and for a few months after it goes LIVE and business runs as usual, the bulletins have to continue and must show the impact delivered on the business in terms of the improvements planned at the beginning.