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Six steps to project success

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Staff members are increasingly spending time working on project teams rather than in their ‘day job’. This can mean operating in virtual teams, ad hoc teams or ‘pop-up’ organisations. The trend towards projects has been driven, in part, by the fact that the government is implementing major programmes of work, particularly in the infrastructure sector. It can be a huge challenge for organisations to quickly create efficient teams that deliver real transformational change in what is often uncharted territory.


‘Transformational change’ can be defined as a shift in the business culture of an organisation that comes about as a result of changes to the organisation’s underlying strategy and the processes that it has used in the past. It is organisation-wide and enacted over a period of time.

Major programmes are ultimately delivered by ‘pop-up organisations’ - such as Crossrail, High Speed Two and Thames Tideway Tunnel. These ‘organisations’ experience the biggest transformational change of all – moving from individual parent organisations to the new entity, all while carrying out the ‘day job’, which is delivering a major, high-profi le project.

So how do leaders take these projects from a standing start to being a mature organisation that is capable of delivering many billions of pounds of works and services? At the same time, they also manage the amalgamation and integration of staff and resources from existing mature businesses, each of which bring their own ways of working, processes and culture.

A transformational change guide for leaders

Adopting the attributes and approaches of leading transformational change can help programme and project leaders to lead their teams. Below is a six-step approach for leading transformational change, which is also appropriate to leading a major programme or project.

1. Clarity for all stakeholders

It is important to have a clear vision that is directly linked to the overall strategy and objectives of the sponsoring authority. So the ability for a leader to always grasp the ‘big picture’ is crucial. The vision often needs to be conveyed to dfferent stakeholders using different methods. Therefore, leaders should explore different ways of articulating the way forward. This could include the use of ‘rich pictures’ and even professional ‘storytelling’ to articulate a particular ‘journey’ for a specific stakeholder group. What is most important is that all stakeholders understand the real benefits of the programme, how they will be realised and how they are measured.

2. Clear, simple governance

Successful programmes benefit from a clear and simple governance regime. An effcient and effective governance regime will manifest itself in the form of clearly defi ned roles, commonly understood responsibilities, a simple organisational structure and a quick decision-making process. Many people regard the delivery of the venues and infrastructure for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games as a leading example of an appropriate governance regime. The lessons learned from London 2012 are well documented and are being used as a benchmark for the delivery of current major programmes. That said, governance is there to enable the vision and may need fl exibility built in to respond to a moving landscape.

3. Get the environment right

Transformational change and major programmes (and projects) both require high-performing teams to deliver the expected outcomes and outputs. High-performing teams need the appropriate ‘environment’ to perform efficiently and effectively. Setting the right environment for these teams involves a wide range of considerations. These include allowing team members to challenge the status quo and encouraging them to look at ways of innovating what they are being asked to do. This can be achieved by ensuring that all the stakeholders and, particularly, team members, understand what innovation actually means to the programme. Ensure that the team fully understands the risk environment, what risk looks like on this programme, and just as importantly, which opportunities could be identified and realised. Highperforming teams adopt a ‘controlled approach’ to risk. Leaders must also ensure that their team has the appropriate infrastructure to deliver their tasks in the most ecient way. This will mean putting in place appropriate systems, establishing realistic timelines and setting appropriate workloads.

4. A holistic scope for the programme

Leaders need to be focused on not just the technical or organisational aspects of the scope of their programme, but also on the cultural and behavioural aspects. The challenge for leaders is to understand and manage all the dynamics aecting the transformational change effort – both the ‘hard’ technical aspects and the ‘softer’ behavioural elements.

5. Work with the culture, to change the culture

Achieving transformational change, whether that is with an organisation or through a major programme (or project), requires that change to be more than just structures, processes and systems (the ‘hard’ elements). It needs to address behaviour, both individually and collectively, as well as the development of leadership capabilities and talent management (the ‘soft’ elements). Transformational change often fails because leaders do not address the organisation’s culture. This manifests itself in not realising the expected benefits of the programme because people do not embrace new ways of working. While often appearing intangible and hard to grasp for many leaders, all aspects of change are influenced by the organisation’s culture. In order to shift the shared assumptions, beliefs and values (‘the way we do things around here’), leaders must ensure that the transformational change creates a new culture that supports and delivers what the business strategy requires for success.

6. Engage and communicate

Leaders need to adequately engage and communicate with stakeholders, both internally (such as staff and team members) and externally (those impacted by the transformational programme, but outside the team). Engagement is particularly important early in the change process, since the greatest opportunity to influence and enhance value is at the beginning of any project or programme. Most leaders become aware of the need to improve communication during the programme. All leaders grossly underestimate the amount of time and resources required for adequate communication. Many large programme teams now incorporate communications and engagement positions within their teams, often as part of the senior leadership group.

High performance

Organisations cannot just put people on a programme and hope that all goes well. Transformational programmes require high-performing teams and high-performing teams require transformational leaders. These leaders must address both the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ aspects of their very often high-profile programme, and must be equipped with the appropriate skills, competencies and behaviours to address these issues.  

This blog first appeared as an article in the 2015 Spring edition of Project magazine.


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