The challenges to change: Why do so many projects fail?

business plan

“There is nothing permanent except change”; although originally spoken around 2,500 years ago, the words of ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, are highly relevant to today’s business environment.

While the business benefits of transformation projects are becoming widely recognised, without proper planning, change has the potential to cause more issues than solutions. So how can organisations keep an eye on the bigger picture when delivering change, and why are all elements of the people, processes and technology mix equally important?

Recent years have seen more and more business leaders futureproofing their organisations by proactively investing in change projects. The rapid rate of technological innovation across many different sectors has forced companies to respond by increasing their agility, along with other factors including changing customer demands, the need to drive efficiencies and the desire to keep ahead of competitors in the marketplace.

With a careful plan in place, change projects can prove key to unlocking significant commercial benefits for years to come. However, all too often, organisations embark on a transformation drive without a clear end goal in mind, making it difficult for them to know when they’ve reached their change destination.

Before investing in transformation, it’s essential that businesses can clearly define their key objectives, as well as the steps or stages required to achieve them. When breaking a project down into smaller tasks, it’s important to be clear where responsibilities for specific areas lie, which can be done by allocating members of staff against each one.

When deciding who should be responsible for the different ingredients of a change project, business leaders should also be realistic about what’s achievable in the available timespan and take care not to overload already busy people. Wherever possible, setting aside dedicated individuals and resources for the project will help to ensure that it isn’t pushed down the agenda, risking time and cost overruns.

A common pitfall when undertaking a transformation drive is the temptation to rush into it headlong and attempt to address a number of different areas at once. Focusing first on the areas of change which offer the best return on investment can help to create a positive domino effect within the organisation, allowing efficiencies to be realised straight away.

Another challenge to successful change is the need for effective communication. Inevitably, confusion around the reasons behind a change project and what it is trying to achieve can result in a decline in staff engagement. This in turn may lead to a drop-off in quality levels or even in the company failing to deliver its objectives altogether.

In order to put together a comprehensive communications plan, it’s important to recognise that change can impact people in different ways. For example, replacing a paper-based events booking system with a new online service is likely to have very different impacts on the business’ employees, and its customers.

Conducting thorough stakeholder mapping at an early stage of the project and in turn, recognising the importance of a variety of communication channels, will allow businesses to ensure all affected stakeholders feel that they are being considered. Other vital ingredients of an effective communications plan include a proactive approach to distributing key information, and the need for clear, honest and consistent messaging.

By releasing communications at key milestones along the project timeline and being open and upfront about the reasons for changes and their expected outcomes, businesses are more likely to gain stakeholders’ trust and ensure that they’re on board with the transformation mission.

Ultimately, focusing on changes to a business’ people, processes, infrastructure or systems in isolation is short-sighted; a comprehensive, ‘big picture’ and more holistic approach, where all three elements are tackled together, is needed to ensure projects deliver results long into the future.

In today’s fast-moving landscape, business agility has become essential in order to keep pace with technological innovations, stay ahead of competitors and keep customers and employees on side. With the right preparation and by adopting a joined-up approach to change, organisations can deliver hard-hitting change projects which pave the way for their future success.
Eman Al-Hillawi is principal consultant at business change consultancy Entec Si