Historically, large consulting firms and/or system integrators are brought in to manage large, complex initiatives. But transformational projects have a different set of resource dynamics than previous periods.

Today, organizations want to leverage in-house expertise and external subject matter experts (SMEs) when embarking on major change programs. They are no longer happy to rely only on the large consulting firms/system integrators for guidance. This requires a new emphasis on the ability to create value by integrating disparate teams while providing larger programs and strategies with a holistic approach.

New Times, New Dynamics

The digital transformational needs of corporate America are creating dynamics that are not being addressed by the project/program management methods of the past. Most large transformations require process and organizational change and training. This goes beyond a complex technology implementation effort. It now focuses more on how companies think about how to run their business to stay competitive and, in many cases, take advantage of the wealth of digital data available. Digital transformation requires heavy investment from companies to create a transformed organization ready for the digital future.

Program and project managers are taught the tactical aspects of managing a project or a program. The same training and methodology have been used across industries for decades. They are taught to manage a project plan, how to create a plan and how to manage a plan to deliver the tasks on time, on budget and within scope.

However, the best executions require the ability to work with people and convincing them to drive to the plan — people first, plan second. Remember: Most projects are difficult (if not impossible) to complete by a team of people with different objectives, personalities and roles. Checking off boxes on a plan will never produce the results required for a transformational initiative, if you don’t have the right people involved and engaged. It should be assumed that transformational efforts (i.e., any efforts that require a lot of change) are often met with resistance. Any successful implementation requires an understanding that a plan without the cooperation and involvement of the team is useless.

Now Is the Time

This is an opportunity for the training industry to be on the forefront of change for their companies. Project and program management must be transformed, and it needs to start with revamping how we train our project/program managers.

1. The Why. Focus the education of program management on “the why” of the transformation. This starts by understanding a company’s strategy and how the transformation will help stakeholders recognize the value of that strategy. Ask someone on the project team why they are doing an effort and I would bet that at least 85% will say that either they don’t know or that they are just getting something done on time and on budget. These are necessary metrics but hardly the ones that will drive the company to meet their strategic objectives. Until program/project managers focus on ensuring that the project is centered around value generation for the company, results will drift back to just “getting things done” — not necessarily getting them done right.

2. The People. Ensure that you are training the right people. As mentioned above, good project management isn’t focused only on a plan. You need (the right) people to help create and execute the plan. Transformational leaders require a broader understanding of why the transformation is happening and how their executive team might define success when it’s done. Find resources that can understand the strategy of your company and how to break it down into an integrated plan that an integrated team can agree on and work with.

3. The Leadership. Look for leadership skills. There will almost always be some resistance to transformation. Remember that the definition of transformation is a thorough change. Most people inherently don’t like change. So even more important than the standard checking of boxes, the transformation leader needs to understand how to gain buy-in and know when to push back and when to raise the red flag. Hire for the leadership skills of an individual first. Tactical skills, while important, are secondary.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Many businesspeople will tell you that strategy is the most exciting part of business. But the execution of that strategy is more important than just having a strategy. The true problem solving happens during execution. Strategy consultants can bring their big books to the client, but usually, they are dealing only with the executive team creating that strategy through strategic decision-making — not the people implementing it in their day-to-day roles.

Program managers don’t have the luxury of a vested group of people working with them on their deliverables. Most managers are working with all levels in a company, some of which are not vested in the solution. Finding someone that knows how to gain buy-in is usually the most important aspect of placing a program manager on an important effort.

Corporate training divisions have an opportunity to think about creating a new level of strategic delivery leaders. This training can lead to better implementations throughout the company and more value generated when these transformations are completed.