Insights 2016

Harold Schroeder: The art and science of transformation

Schroeder & Schroeder Inc.’s Art and Science of Transformation® framework was developed in recognition that major organizational change initiatives require the application of “art” as well as “science” to be successful.

The art and science framework

In this framework, we define the “science” of transformation as the use of management tools, methods and techniques, such as those set out in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) and including for example planning, resource estimation and risk analysis.

We define the “art” of transformation, in contrast, as the softer, people-related skills and attributes that are often personal in nature or develop from experiential leaning. These include communications and inter-personal skills, leadership and the types of attributes sometimes referred to in terms of “acumen” or “emotional intelligence.”

Not all transformations require the same input or combinations 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. In any organizational transformation, it is crucial to achieve the right balance of art and science.

This often has much to do with mindsets as with specific skills or expertise: the Art and Science of Transformation requires the application of both “right brain” and “left brain” thinking. From the perspective, the art of change represents the more holistic, quantitative approach, while the science represents the more analytical and logical approach.

Paying attention to the “science” of transformation will ensure that:

  • All relevant stakeholders are identified and involved as necessary in the project
  • Detailed, accurate, comprehensive and achievable project plans are developed which mitigate the potential for later conflict or misunderstandings
  • A clear governance structure exists and project-related roles and responsibilities are all clearly defined
  • Appropriate use is made of communication tools and technology
  • Project risks are identified and managed
  • Adequate measures are developed and implemented to demonstrate project ROI
  • All aspects of project execution are fully and accurately documented, in all relevant stakeholder environments, to enable effective monitoring, evaluation, scope and change control

Paying attention to the “art” of transformation will ensure that:

  • There is strong leadership which champions project interests and needs versus individual stakeholder interests
  • Different views on or interpretations of project objectives and goals are identified and reconciled
  • Project communication styles and methods are well-matched to the needs and characteristics of stakeholders and project team members
  • Agreement can be reached on how quality and risk are defined, taking into account of different perspectives
  • Motivation and commitment to the project are increased
  • The probability of positive and sustainable outcomes is increased

Successful transformation requires more than the application of particular types of skills and mindsets, however. The evidence from research (e.g. McKinsey and Company, 2015) and practical experience indicates that successful transformation requires a systematic and holistic approach in which multiple critical success factors are simultaneously addressed. We contend that successful organizational transformations also require a proper understanding of why it is so important to transform, and how to effectively define and pursue the Transformation Objectives and Goals.

Based on the research evidence as well as our extensive hands-on experience of helping diverse organizations through the transformation process, we developed a recommended Art and Science of Transformation® approach. This is designed to address and overcome the main reasons why organizational change projects typically fail and has the following key characteristics:

  • An emphasis on achieving the right balance between “art” and “science” in the transformation process
  • A holistic approach, which recognizes and addresses the inter-relationships between the organization’s people, culture, systems and processes
  • A systematic approach, which is fully integrated with the organization’s strategic planning process
  • An understanding of what needs to change and what must stay the same when transforming an organization

Types of projects and the art and science balance

In simple, functional projects with little stakeholder environment and low risks, the need for both art and science will generally be quite low. Transformation initiatives rarely fall into this category, however.  At the other extreme, a mission-critical program with multiple stakeholders will call for high inputs of both art and science. Major transformation projects such as post-merger integrations or an enterprise-wide product or service launch generally fall into this category, with all departmental heads or senior executives needing to be intimately involved in the initiative.

In between these extremes, there are a wide variety of organizational change projects, and a need to judge in each case, the relative importance of art and science and the specific skills and expertise needed for their effective management. The specific mix of art and science required in a transformation initiative will reflect, for example, the size and geographic distribution of the organization, the scale of the changes needed and the expected level of resistance to the changes.

The strategic transformation framework

Successful transformation requires an understanding of what needs to change and what must stay the same when transforming an organization. Fundamental Purpose and Core Values are static factors that should form the guiding principles that determine the desired ultimate destination and how to reach it, in broad terms. Transformational Value Drivers, Transformation Capabilities and Transformation Objectives, in contrast, are dynamic factors that reflect the current and expected future state of the external environment, and should be modified to ensure that the organization is able to maintain its competitive position.

Harold Schroeder FCMC, PMP, CHRP, CHE is a renowned strategic program adviser, management consultant and project manager. He is President of Schroeder & Schroeder Inc. in Toronto.

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