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Scale Matters...

You can't give them the answer they want if they're trying to solve the wrong problem.....

Through the ornate frame of the committee room window the murky grey Thames distracted me into thought.  A stern lady in a sober blue suit had just returned to her seat after giving her evidence to the Public Accounts Committee.  Her evidence identified many errors that had threatened the success of a programme of public works: a transformation of national importance.  Why, when the elements required for successful transformation are well understood, do we have another failing programme?  I thought of two experiences -

Assessing and correcting a transformation that had been implemented by another Company

One time, when standing at the front of a lecture style meeting room in a local government organisation, I looked around the audience from all the directorates and was confused.  Why was there tension?  Why was there a disconnect?  Suddenly it came to me: we are not giving them they answer they want because they are trying to solve the wrong problem.  We had been engaged to assess and correct a transformation that had been implemented by another company.  It had not delivered and they wanted to know how it could be fixed.  But of the six barriers to progress only one was related to the supplying company’s implementation; the others were business process and change issues.  All the directorates had insisted on implementing their own version of the transformation.  Once this was articulated to the senior management an organisation-wide communications plan was enacted, a series of “master classes” were run - including classes for the chief executive and the directorate heads; business processes were integrated and staff were trained.  The project then delivered.

Integrating an acquisition into a multi-national manufacturing system

Another time I was engaged to fix a heavy industry transformation.  A South American owned multi-national manufacturing business had successfully implemented and run robust management systems.  Recently, they had acquired an operation in North America and they wanted this acquisition integrated into their system.  The focus of the integration had been the “order to cash” process.  As I sat in the sales office all became clear.  The customers of this specific business needed to know clear lead-times for the delivery of product: if the delivery did not meet their lead-time requirements they would not place the order.  It was critical that the sales team had a clear view of stock and the ability to influence manufacturing schedules across their plants.  The “order to cash” and the “manufacturing” processes needed to be closely integrated.  Once this was addressed the new acquisition was successfully integrated into the global operation. 

What did these experiences have in common?

Both experiences had one thing in common: competent operational people had been appointed to project and programme management roles.  So why do difficulties arise so often?  I think it is down to scale.  Large projects are not the same as small projects; projects are not the same as programmes.  I believe that management appoint competent people who accept a project or programme role within a large organisation and both have a false sense of confidence.  Based on small-scale success, they believe that large-scale transformation can be delivered without the need to adapt or without the right level of authority to fully implement best practice: board-level support, leadership, realistic expectations, focus on benefits, clear understanding of the future capability, strong and well-communicated vision, successful culture change, appropriate involvement of stakeholders.  Only later when the transformation starts to fail is this mistake fully realised.  The evidence delivered on that day, in those hallowed Westminster chambers, is an illustration of the potential resulting failure.








Freeman Simon Engwell