Today’s business environment is rapidly changing, requiring organizations of all types and sizes to continually transform in order to remain competitive, achieve business growth and meet their goals. Transformation projects have also changed over time, becoming far more complex in the new business environment. They demand very different types of project management skills and attributes than in the past, with a shift away from primarily technical skills and towards the need for understanding of the business environment and skillful stakeholder management.

The business risks of organizational transformation failure are high, yet the importance of advance preparation for an organizational change initiative is often neglected, and there is a widespread lack of understanding among business executives about what is required to achieve this. Many transformations fail, and research shows that these project failures are only rarely due to a lack of formal project management expertise, but can often be attributed to people-related factors.

For any organizational transformation, it is therefore crucial to achieve the right balance of art and science in project management. The science of transformation consists of best practice project management methods and techniques and the art comprises the softer skills necessary for managing the people-related aspects of transformation.

Before a transformation project is implemented, it is crucial to investigate whether the organization has the right combination of art and science project management skills in place, and take the necessary measures to address any gaps, through recruitment, training, or contracting out of the project management function.

There is also a need to ensure that the organizational culture and systems are not likely to hinder a successful transformation and take steps to identify any necessary changes.

A project management skills audit and an organizational readiness assessment are recommended for use in this preparatory stage of organizational transformation, and offer many potential business benefits include reduced risk, more effective project management, and better alignment of organizational culture and systems with the transformation objectives.

Organizational Transformation and the Importance of Preparation

The business risks of organizational transformation are often very high, yet the importance of advance preparation for an organizational change initiative is often neglected, and there is a widespread lack of understanding among business executives about what is required to achieve this.

Today’s business environment is rapidly changing, requiring organizations of all types and sizes to continually transform in order to remain competitive, achieve business growth and meet their goals. Some key drivers of organizational transformation that have become especially important in recent years include economic uncertainty, intensified business competition, advances in information and communications technology and emerging new business models.

However, a large body of research evidence indicates that organizational transformation projects have high rates of failure. Many are reportedly terminated before completion or fail to deliver the intended benefits within the agreed time and budget, often at high cost to the organizations concerned.

The Changing Nature of Transformation Projects

Transformation projects have also changed over time, becoming far more complex in the new business environment. They demand very different types of project management skills and attributes than in the past, with a shift away from primarily technical skills and towards the need for understanding of the business environment and skillful stakeholder management.

Typically, major transformation projects involve a number of different project sponsors and multiple stakeholder groups and are characterized by high levels of unpredictability and risk. They also tend to be more strategic in nature, with pressure to demonstrate high levels of ROI, and often involve mission critical changes for the organization.

Unfortunately, in many transformation projects there is an overreliance on the use of formal tools and techniques and a neglect of the softer skills and attributes, sometimes referred to as people acumen, business acumen or political acumen, that are important in managing complex transformation projects. The research evidence shows that that project failures are only rarely due to a lack of formal project management expertise, but can often be attributed to people-related factors, such as poor communications, weak leadership or a failure to engage employees in the transformation process.

The Art and Science of Transformation Project Management

A crucial implication of these developments in the nature of projects is that the right balance of “art” and “science” is important for a successful transformation.

The science can be defined as the implementation of best practice techniques, methodologies, processes and tools, as set out in PMBOK and other project management standards or guidance. These include, for example, the ability to develop a Work Breakdown Schedule, use Requirements Analysis and Stakeholder Analysis techniques and develop a system for measuring performance against transformation goals.
The art, in contrast, consists of the softer skills necessary for managing the people-related aspects of transformation, and the more intuitive abilities that provide understanding of the business environment and how to operate in it. This category includes leadership, interpersonal communications, strategic awareness and business acumen, for example.

The art and science of transformation can also be usefully conceptualized as left and right brain thinking. For any organizational transformation to succeed, it is crucial to achieve the right balance of art and science in project management. Not all projects require the same input or combination of art and science: the required skills and the balance of art and science will vary depending on factors such as project complexity, numbers and characteristics of stakeholders and perceived business risks.

The Art and Science Balance

Preparing the Organization for Successful Transformation

Before a transformation project is implemented, therefore, it is crucial to investigate whether the organization has the right combination of art and science project management skills in place, and take the necessary measures to address any gaps, through recruitment, training, or contracting out of the project management function.

There is also a need to ensure that the organizational culture and systems are not likely to hinder a successful transformation and take steps to identify any necessary changes. A project management skills audit and an organizational readiness assessment are recommended for use in this preparatory stage of organizational transformation, and offer many potential business benefits including:

• Reducing the risks of transformation and maximizing successful outcomes through highly skilled “art and science” based project management
• Aligning organizational culture with the transformation objectives to promote attitudes and behaviours that drive successful change
• Identifying ways in which “key change shaping levers” such as the performance management and compensation and rewards system can be modified to help promote successful transformation

Transformation Readiness Tools

In contrast with traditional methods of assessing project management skills that are concerned mainly with the “science” rather than the “art” of project management, Schroeder & Schroeder’s Project Manager Skills Assessment System (PMAS) assesses not only the knowledge and expertise of project managers but also their ability to apply these to different types of projects and project situations using the art of transformation.

Individual assessments are based on a number of different methods of data collection, including in-depth interviews, an online self-completion survey and 360-degree assessment, and these are used to compile an organizational overview showing strengths and weaknesses in the project management function. The overall outcome is a clear roadmap for improving art and science based project management to reduce the risks of transformation and generate positive business impacts.

Like the PMAS, Schroeder & Schroeder Inc.’s Organizational Change Readiness Assessment System (OCRAS) is based on a multi-methods approach to data collection and analysis in order to ensure that all possible risks to successful transformation are addressed. It generates understanding of organizational change readiness in relation to seven key “change shaping levers” and a cultural assessment survey and interviews. Advanced analytics are used to identify and prioritize drivers of change success, while qualitative data analysis provides insights beyond the statistics on which practical recommendations for change can be built.