The myth is that transformation programs are projects, and as such will have a clear start and finish, definable objectives, and can be managed using standard project management techniques.

Where Did This Myth Come From?
In the majority of large organisations, if an objective (or set of activities) does not fall under the heading of ‘operations’ or ‘business as usual’, then logic dictates it has to, by default, be considered a project.

What Is the Truth?
Transformations are not a set of steps that lead to a clear goal. Transformations are more akin to a quest to find a rare animal or plant, or to realise, as yet, an unachieved physical feat. You believe it is possible, but you cannot be absolutely certain that you will succeed.

The important truth is that while projects typically envision a better future through delivering outcomes and getting tasks done, transformation programs aspire to a desirable, visionary future without knowing exactly how to get there.

Outcome – Vision Versus Goals
When you embark on a transformation program with the belief that it’s a project, your approach is likely to be one of running a race, even if you are prepared for it to be a marathon. The importance of understanding the distinction rests in your mental, physical, and emotional approach. The preparation for a quest would be quite different to that for a race of a known distance.

Expectation-setting can be the most important exercise that you can do, particularly in relation to your own expectations. If you do treat your transformation program like a race, the chances are you’re going to have some unwelcome surprises. There is likely to come a point where you’ve run twice the distance you anticipated, you’ve burned three times as much energy, you’re exhausted, and you’re still not there.

As leader of the program, being exhausted is going to be one of the least helpful things you can do to yourself and your team.

“[W]hat is a project? It’s a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.

A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.

And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.

The development of software for an improved business process, the construction of a building or bridge, the relief effort after a natural disaster, the expansion of sales into a new geographic market — all are projects.

And all must be expertly managed to deliver the on-time, on-budget results, learning and integration that organizations need.”

Source: 2015 Project Management Institute Inc) source: Project Management Institute Inc

Using the above definition of a project, it’s clear that while most transformations will have some or several of these attributes, there are also aspects that will distinguish your transformation program. One in particular will have significant implications. Does your program have a readily identifiable end? Or, at some point, will what you deliver be the ‘new world’ – the new ‘business as usual’ – for your team, department, or organisation?

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