Transformation programs demand that the organization has the necessary 'capability' to successfully deliver them. Most organization's are deficient.

You Need the Capability to Deliver a Transformation Program

While the term ‘transformation’ is being a bit overused, many organizations are undertaking major change programs under the ‘transformation’ banner. Whether it is a single program or a series of programs, most transformation programs will fail to some degree or another.

Firstly, what do we mean by ‘fail’?
  • A few will not deliver anything at all or anything substantial.
  • Many will deliver something but not everything that was intended and expected.
  • Others will deliver most of what was expected but what is delivered is still only a subset of what was possible for the same level of effort, time and cost.

All of these three outcomes constitutes a degree of ‘failure’.

Drivers of failure

So why will they fail? Partly the reason is the sheer complexity of the program – the difficulty of trying to keep all of the different dimensions, vendors, participants, stakeholders, et al in alignment. Program management tools and techniques can help but they only manage the program. Many of the problems can arise outside ‘the program’. A more holistic approach is required.

In addition, if you’re going to transform an organization you cannot do it TO the organization, you have to do it WITH the organization. Unfortunately, too often the transformation team is separated out from the business-as-usual staff to become a parallel activity for a time until the two worlds collide at implementation. This is when the failings of the program design are found and the business' resistance to the changes is generated – or, more commonly, exacerbated.

The reason for this separation of the program from the business is that as the program is hard to manage, adding in business-as-usual issues is too often seen to make it too hard to manage. Using orthodox program delivery thinking the program goes off to define and develop “the solution” before coming back to implement this solution at a later time. Meanwhile, the business staff have

(a) moved on from any consultation that may have occurred early in the piece,

(b) formed their view of what the transformation program is going to deliver and why they don’t like it, and

(c) set up their own unstated personal acceptance measures that the program is unlikely to meet.

Your change capability

The delivery of a transformation program requires a high level of organizational change capability. This is not a “change capability” as in orthodox people change management, but in terms of how the organization is set up, structured, supported, enabled and measured to support the successful delivery of transformational change. An organization’s processes, policies, culture, structures, information flows, infrastructure, and other dimensions all need to be involved in the delivery of a successful transformation program.

These organizational processes need to be business/strategy based and value delivery focused. In most organizations where they exist they are usually project delivery based and cost focused – a far more limited perspective that can lead directly to transformation failure.

The use of cost/project-based processes can be seen very clearly where a transformation program is based on the implementation of one or more new systems. Such a program usually takes on the persona of a systems implementation program, not an organizational transformational change program. The systems delivery lifecycle thinking and timeframes come to dominate the program rather than the more dynamic and progressive change delivery approaches.

So, a prerequisite for any transformation program is to know your organization's value delivery capability level – your organization’s capability to successfully and fully deliver all of the available value from a transformation program.

If your organization does not have the requisite level of capability you will fail. Simple.

Warning: less than 5% of organizations have the capability to successfully deliver transformational programs.

The nature of your 'change capability'

You cannot buy in ‘capability’ — it is an organizational attribute. Transformational programs are organizational change programs and need a capable organization to enable their success.

There are five measurable levels of ‘value delivery capability’ that correlate to the complexity of transformation programs.  Only when the nature of the transformation program and the organization's capability are aligned can the program be successfully delivered and the results and returns generated.

A true transformation program can deliver massive returns, but usually requires the organization to be at capability level four. Meanwhile, most organizations are struggling to achieve or sustain capability level two. So you can see why so many transformation programs fail.

In Conclusion

This all too common gap is even greater than it may appear. There is a quantum change in the nature of the capability levels between levels three and four. Unlike orthodox maturity models, the capability model is not linear – you cannot get to level four by developing through level three. Level four is a different way of thinking, working, measuring and delivering. It is value focused and business/strategy-based. (Levels one-to-three are cost focused and project delivery based.)

So, to successfully deliver a transformation program you need to not only uplift your organization’s capability level but also change your whole approach to projects and programs to become value delivery focused and based.

BTW, did we mention that adoption of TOP immediately moves you capability level four? 

Topics: Capability Development, Project Success, Value Delivery, Change Management

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Aug 2012) as "“Why ‘Transformation Programs’ Fail”"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections