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Transformation Article - Why Transformation Programmes are best avoided 

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So, presumably – given that you’ve started reading this – you’re contemplating embarking on some form of transformation programme (or perhaps you’ve already started on one, in which case what follows will in all probability ring very true). 

We strongly advise you not to do this. 

First of all, there is a clue in the word ‘transformation’, which may be defined as ‘a marked or material change, often radical or revolutionary in nature’.  All forms of change in organizations are difficult, as illustrated by the voluminous literature on the topic.  Clearly therefore marked or material change is going to be particularly difficult. 

And if we think about the word ‘revolutionary’ – revolutions are dangerous (in fact people usually get killed – the bloodless revolution is more the exception than the rule), risky, and not always successful.  Likewise, transformation programmes can be dangerous for the careers of those concerned (fortunately however they seldom get killed), they are high risk, and prone to failure.  And as with at least some revolutions – the French and American come to mind – they also tend to take a long time, often many years.  They are complex and difficult, they are demanding of huge effort and energy and resources from the organization, they are a distraction from lots of other important things the enterprise has to do, they seldom go to plan, and they therefore need constant attention. 

Moreover, when we think about those transformations involving IT systems, as a large proportion of them do, there is again ample evidence that all systems initiatives, regardless of scale, are at the very least challenging, and many of them, and probably most of them, fail in some respects, in that in one way or another they do not deliver the full value initially anticipated.  Since transformational IT programmes tend inevitably to sit at the more complex end of the systems initiative spectrum, then the likelihood of failure, or certainly disappointment, would seem particularly high. 

Given all this, transformation activities, and especially those involving systems, are something best avoided, and other simpler, smaller scale, more gradual or incremental approaches adopted wherever possible.  Although in our experience organizations often seem highly reluctant to take a more gradualist approach.

This said, clearly there are situations in which organizations find themselves which demand a transformational approach, and where there really is no simpler alternative available – for example where systems have been allowed to become archaic, and there is no feasible evolutionary upgrade path.  Either way, whenever organizations embark on programmes of transformation, they need to do so with their eyes open, with a full appreciation of what they are taking on, with an awareness of all the challenges and the pitfalls and pratfalls that may arise.  Again, and surprisingly, enterprises are often not as rigorous here as they could and should be, given the complexity, exposure and risk involved in such situations.

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