Many companies have embarked on the journey of digital transformation to innovate and reinvent themselves in a sustainable manner. Unfortunately, Forbes predicted in 2018 that 70 % of these digital transformation projects will not reach their stated goals, this equates to $900 billion of lost spend …

Why is it so difficult to successfully and timely deliver corporate programmes? Why do so many projects fail and silently disappear under the corporate radar? Why is it that programs are being squeezed between corporate ‘silo’ objectives and global program deliverables? What can be considered as best practices so that typical program pitfalls can be avoided whilst implementing digital journeys?

When reviewing the main success factors of generic enterprise change programs being implemented by various technology providers worldwide, it became crystal clear to me that the role of proper end-to-end program orchestration and management is key to transformational success or failure. This is more than ever true for the digital challenges our enterprises are currently facing.

I orchestrated and supported the design and implementation of quite some transformations in various areas of the global telco space: customer experience, efficiency improvements; digital organizational development; network migrations as well as an implementation of a major merger. In different shapes or forms, the program design was well defined and often supported by reputable consultancy companies. The transformational concepts were overall ok in terms of expected deliverables, planning and timetables. In my humble opinion though, consistent and rigorous project implementation and progress monitoring can be considered as one of the real critical program phases, especially when it concerns enterprise transformations with a regional or worldwide scope.

Whilst the engagement from the CEO and the Board during the entire transformation lifecycle is an obvious ‘must’, an executive mandate is unfortunately not enough to be successful. Continuous top-level commitment and guaranteed executive time spend to closely monitor and review progress status often makes the real difference between program success or failure.

The lack of e2e dedicated program leadership orchestrating the involved HQ silos and the field is another key criterion for program success or failure. Especially when the external consultants are gone, the result-oriented program interactions between HQ and the operating countries or departments risk to degrade.

In a specific project case I witnessed that depending which functional HQ program representative reached out to an operating country, the transformation objectives and actions plans varied in nature and priority. Objectives such as agility, efficiency, layer reduction, operational readiness etc. were not necessarily sufficiently synchronised and prioritised. This silo approach impacted the effectiveness of the overall project, its timing and budget. Dedicated program leadership, orchestrating local versus global, is an absolute requirement during the entire lifecycle of a project. A transversal teamwork-oriented approach is hereby mandatory.

In order to guarantee an e2e program view and after formal validation of the program objectives by all key involved execs, the change manager needs to be able to “silo independently” consolidate the corporate program truth and share his/her own updates. Especially when the program is transversal in nature, the authority and independence of the head of programs need to be safeguarded against corporate politics initiated by individual divisions with sometimes diverging interests. The latter might undermine the overall program success.

The hierarchical reporting position of the change manager is therefore important, especially when it concerns projects characterized by major cross-functional deliverables. Ideally, the Program Officer or Head of Transformation should form part of the Leadership team, at least for the duration of the program. The program responsible needs to be considered by his/her Leadership peers as fully equal. Alternatively, he/she must be positioned as an independent consultant reporting high up into the organization.

If the transformation program position though reports into a M-1 or lower level, automatically the program risks to get downgraded in terms of importance and leverage potential and due to competing projects. It might therefore not get the required executive attention and fast decision making, especially in case when program delays, handover or quality issues occur. In such cases the voice of the program representative is much less heard and his/her authority decreases.

Even if a transformation program is more limited in terms of scope, budget or time, it is still highly recommended to set up a Steering Committee type of governance overseeing the design, launch and roll out. In such Committee key execs are formally nominated and represent the different underlying functions supporting the project, whilst the program manager shares project progress.

Escalation paths must be well defined upfront so that the alarm bell can be rang if and when required. Via all available channels frequent progress updates must be communicated to staff and various company cultures bridged, especially when it concerns global projects.

Program managers are like yacht men sailing the oceans whilst plotting their course on a nautical chart by precisely considering bearing, speed, distance and time to travel. Luckily program managers do have a set of valuable instruments at their disposal to plan and time their transformation journey: project charters; action plans; dashboards; workstreams (vertical and horizontal); performance indicators; risk assessments; etc. With these tools he/she must ensure the project gets properly rolled out across the involved enterprise processes, workflows, tools and data repositories.

In order to avoid the degradation of the program momentum, the existence of a clear project mandate is key in order to ensure a healthy start. The project charter describes the “program course”: its high-level timing; performance targets; metrics; review and reporting structure as well as mapping of major dependencies. The mandate, reflected into a defined project charter format, must be validated by all involved functions/divisions (top-down as well as bottom-up) and finally to be signed off by the Leadership Board.

During the program lifecycle a common project language, standard reporting formats and a longer-term review plan is an absolute must. Frequent progress updates and structured transversal exchanges are required. These executive updates should consist of: i/ a progress chapter including a traffic light status; ii/ recurring and newly identified issues; iii/ areas of risk and related mitigation actions; iv/ acceleration potential. These progress reports must be filled in with rigor and permanent attention needs to be given to quality and accuracy of content.

As said, all of this does not look not very sexy, but it is essential to avoid program failures.

Especially these days in which Boards are confronted with increasingly digital complexities and with customers who do not want to navigate anymore between corporate silos. Therefore, the digital framework inherently requires full customer journey transparency as well as individualised customer relationship management. The latter will de facto force corporates to link their silo data and systems so that consolidated customers information can be properly processed and taken care off. By rigorously applying a disciplined e2e program framework, the barrier to properly roll out digital journeys will be significantly lowered. For companies to really become successful in digital, the program management discipline should become more and more an unmissable component of the corporate governance and agenda!

Marc Anné is an Executive Change Management Consultant and vastly experienced in the telecom sector. He is also a judge of the World Communication Awards, organised by Total Telecom. This article is presented by the Total Telecom Network which represents the views of independent experts and advisers to the telecom industry. If you are interested in contributing an article to the Network, please contact Rob Chambers