We’ve all been there, the frustration, the heartache, the pain…

Change projects can be some of the most stressful, tense atmospheres to work in.   In this post I’m going to take a look at the three most common characteristics of failed change as reported by over 160 change and project management professionals in the Big Change Report.

Clarity of scope and purpose – What do you want from me?!

From a number of conversations with professionals who have taken part in both successful and failed change projects, it was made clear that a lack of Clarity of purpose and scope had every reason for being the main characteristic for failed change. All too often at university this can be down to a lack of communication. When you have short deadlines, the first meeting is vital. Objectives, time scale and requirements need to be clearly defined. If not projects are being set up to fail.

The importance of clarity of purpose and scope seems to resonate across the survey. In very similar circumstances to university projects, a lack of “specific requirements and understanding of clear objectives” proves to be detrimental to change projects. The importance of a clear scope and purpose is something which I will prioritise if I manage change projects in the future.

Executive Sponsorship - Every little helps

Executive Sponsorship is something which isn’t particularly relatable to my University career and is something I’ve learned on my internship at Xceed Group.

In Change Projects executive sponsorship and leadership is essential. As discovered in a number of responses in the Big Change Survey, without clear top level support you’re unlikely to be able to get your project off the ground. “No buy in from top management” and “No major priority from executives” as mentioned by our respondents, are indications that you may be doomed from the start. It seems to stand out that in order to be successful the board needs to be on-board!

Planning – Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

As much as I’d love University to be as organised as Xceed Group, unfortunately University can be considered as a little more chaotic. When comparing a 9-5 daily job, to an 8 hour per week contact time, maintaining focus and concentration can turn out to be somewhat of a challenge. This is a common issue you find when attempting to arrange meetings. Spaniards, notorious for their “mañana, mañana” stereotype, were highly effective in delaying work till the last minute. This is something I found out the hard way. I had to pull together reports for the following day while the rest of the team of 5 were often ‘too busy’ to do the work. The unorganised, unprepared approach shown is something I’d dread to think would happen in the workplace. However some of the feedback received on the Big Change Survey suggests that I’d be wrong.

Planning is unfortunately a clear culprit for failed change projects. “Poor planning” is a phrase which stands out clearly in the free text responses to this question. It seems to be a common frustration that a “poorly thought out” plan with a “lack of detail” can lead you on a road to nowhere. If there’s anything which sticks out in this survey to me it is certainly that if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

The Surprises – what stands out? As I bring to a close my update on the Big Change Survey, I’m going to summarise what have been the most interesting aspects of the survey for me so far:

  1. It seems that the characteristics which are essential for success are also the underlying reason for failure, suggesting that these 3 characteristics are actually the crucial foundations for what makes a project successful or not. These are:
    • Clarity of Purpose and Scope
    • Executive Sponsorship and Support
    • Quality of Planning
  2. Change management comes out as a bigger factor for failure than success, with very few people highlighting Change Management as a key to success, but several mentioning it as a reason for failure. This was also the same for ‘Sufficient Budget/Funding’and ‘Availability of Resources’.
  3. Despite not making it into the top 3, Communication and Project Management are clearly important characteristics for change projects. Communication is vital for any project; from regular contact at executive level right through to the people working on the project is crucial. This ensures that everyone is on the same page, has a common goal and that regular and timely reviews are being conducted.
  4. .“Only 25% of change management initiatives are successful over the long term,” (Lipman, 2013). This is probably one of the scariest but unsurprising statistics I’ve seen throughout my research. It re-emphasises the need for improvement when it comes to executing change and the importance of these 3 characteristics of successful change projects.

We are now in an age where business is technology driven. Change is no longer a choice; it’s a matter of business survival or failure. We can look at Blockbuster and Netflix or Nokia to Apple’s iPhone. They’ve both been pushed out of the market because they failed to change and adapt their culture to the development of technology as well as the demands of the market. It’s clear to me that organisations need to embrace change across their company.

Join our Big Change LinkedIn Group to keep up to date with the latest on Big Change.