- Underestimating the uncertainty and complexity of execution;
- Overstating benefits to justify upfront funding; and
- Over emphasising the deployment of technical solutions without appreciating the business changes required to deliver the benefits.
Despite these weaknesses, programs carry on enforcing these unreliable predictions, embedding them in fixed contracts with suppliers, forcing the extraction of financial benefits from budgets, and controlling them during execution as if they were viable commitments to delivery.
When reality later proves a lot more fluid than initially predicted, especially in today’s uncertain and complex business environment, large and frequent variations to plan emerge during execution. In such context, stakeholders gradually lose confidence in delivery and the program becomes less open to discuss new variations, which delays trade-off decisions only to create larger variations later on.
This vicious cycle is a known pattern in many programs of change — especially large ones — where big “surprises” are experienced towards the end of delivery, when changes are more costly and decisions are more difficult to make due to the large investment already made. With the pressure to stop overruns, programs typically react by cutting their scope based on cost savings, but without fully understanding the impacts on unrealised benefits.
After going through a few of these vicious cycles of delivery, many organisations today realise that the delivery of complex change under uncertainty is less about the tight control against early predictions and more about the skilful navigation of change as it unfolds.
Like a boat on the sea does not attempt to control nature, but instead uses its power and every favourable current or wind to advance in its desired direction, modern change programs navigate towards valued destinations, fully recognising uncertainty and complexity, and acting in a timely manner to mitigate risks and leverage opportunities of new conditions.
While a map usually guides the journey of value creation, the most valuable path is actually discovered and made viable as stakeholders experience change, understand it and progressively make commitments to it.
This experiential perspective of change is based on the understanding that:
- The best way for stakeholders to fully appreciate a complex reality is to experience it. Today, stakeholders jointly experience change in collaborative environments;
- There are many possible paths to successfully realise value from change. The most valuable and viable one has to be explored, validated and prioritised as it emerges;
- Uncertainty has to be navigated, not artificially controlled. For effective execution, change programs need to be transparent and flexible, continuously create options and make timely trade-offs;
- Creativity and innovation are needed but they cannot be forced, they have to be enabled. For instance, funding and supplier arrangements need to support collaboration and discovery.
Experiential delivery at work
- Reducing program risks through iterative and incremental delivery of business outcomes and benefits;
- Engaging stakeholders in the joint design, development and delivery of business performance improvements;
- Developing rapid business solutions through the use of agile technologies;
- Enabling creativity and innovation through “learning by doing” — pilots, prototypes and use of visual techniques.
Written by: Fernando Gaggero — founder and director of River Plate Projects | RPP