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Six Myths that Undermine Major IT Transformation Projects

Allan Ackerman, Don Ruse and Paul Dinan

March 9, 2015

Believing common myths about IT transformations can lead to legendary failure. According to research by the Standish Group, of 3,555 IT projects from 2003 to 2012 that had labor costs of at least $10 million, only 6.4% were successful. An alarming 52% of the large projects were “challenged” (over budget, behind schedule or didn’t meet user expectations). The remaining 41.4% were failures, either started over or abandoned.

mythFact

We have identified six myths that can undermine your next transformation project, and ways to avoid these traps.

Myth #1—Transformation is all about IT systems change.

Significant strategic transformation is not about successfully installing new technology; that’s critical but insufficient. Initiatives worth funding should deliver fundamental improvements to core business process and operational governance. That requires creating alignment around the business goals of the transformation, giving people new capabilities to operate in new ways and sustaining the effort until the results are actually attained.

Myth #2—IT sponsorship is sufficient to lead and manage the transformation.

Broad and deep corporate understanding and strong support across the organization are hallmarks of transformation success. After all, business processes outside of the IT department—customer service, finance, supply chain, sales, HR, manufacturing—typically will be most affected by a transformation. It requires conscious, dedicated effort to achieve clarity and commitment—a combination of rational arguments and thoughtful, candid dialogue works best. The goal should be to secure active and visible sponsorship by every member of the executive team, from the earliest definition of the program vision and plan, all the way through the challenge of overcoming the inertia of existing ways of working.

Myth #3—Most work will be done by the IT department and its external partners.

The rest of the business has to have skin in the game. A program structure and governance model that actively engages the appropriate business leaders in building the business case, capturing business requirements, selecting implementation partners and leading and managing change are essential throughout the transformation. Seeing business leaders and end-users on the sidelines while the IT department is hammering away at building a new system is a sure sign of imminent failure.

Myth #4—Only IT and selected end-users will experience the transformation.

In fact, every person in every function that will be affected by the transformation has to be engaged at some level in contributing to a successful transformation effort. Purposeful, engaging and persistent conversations about “Here is what this really means to you” can head off the resistance that can turn a transformation effort into another tragic tale. The specific needs, desires, hopes, fears and concerns of each key stakeholder group should be identified at the outset. What is said, and how it is said, must be tailored to those specific concerns.

Myth #5—Available resources (vs. the most capable and credible) are sufficient to get the job done.

Get your best horse in the race when the stakes are highest. Transformations are precisely the time to call on the company’s best and brightest. And that doesn’t’t mean just in the IT department or the third-party integrators. Because leading and managing change is very different from the “day job,” having a capable and credible team, armed with the skills to drive and sustain change, is a prerequisite for success.

Myth #6—Failure is due to poor technology selection and implementation.

It’s easy, and common, to point fingers at the software provider or third-party integrator when things go wrong, despite the fact that a lot of time and effort are invested in assessing vendors and software offerings. But when we’re brought in to resurrect a troubled transformation, we often find that the root cause is the absence of a broad-based understanding of, the desire for, and knowledge about the new ways of working that the transformation was supposed to produce. Leaders who execute a change management program that builds and sustains awareness, understanding and support will have a transformation success story that’s worth telling.

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