It’s a peculiar feeling when a handful of people sit in a room, staring at a blank whiteboard, tasked with creating a plan for how to transform the business fundamentally. This project has the power to impact hundreds, if not thousands of people worldwide. As the team gathers to outline this undertaking, it’s only natural for the first utterance following a dramatic silence to be, “So, what do we do?”
It’s daunting to put fundamental change in motion. Predicting every possible outcome during a business transformation initiative is nearly impossible, so how can you begin to plan for it?
Fear not, brave adventurers. There is a systematic process by which you can create not just a team, plan, and roadmap but also identify the perils and safe harbors along the uncharted journey you are about to begin. Having spent decades navigating transformative projects, both big and small, we’ve developed a rubric to help demystify the mobilization process and enable leaders to kick off their journey effectively.
The Defined Process to Putting Change in Motion
The first step in any mobilization process is to break down the problem you aim to solve. To accomplish this in meaningful and systematic efforts, we use a rubric that looks at five core dimensions in any business transformation mobilization initiative — People, Process, Technology, Data, and Governance.
Before I dig deeper into each area, let’s look at how each part plays into the other by using an example we can all relate to — moving. Whenever you start this process, you must analyze the People, Processes, Technology, Data, and Governance involved in moving from one house to another.
First, there are the people. These include the people being moved, the movers who may or may not be the same, the old neighbors, the new ones, the realtors, the bankers, etc. You get the idea. These people need to work in concert while still managing the varying expectations and needs.
Next up is the Process. There are numerous processes to track, including how to pack, get moving trucks to the right places, when to unpack, register for new schools, outline new commutes, turn off old services, and get utilities in order. You can’t ignore any of these steps.
Technology, which is ubiquitous in this day and age, must also be managed. You’ll need to figure out how you’ll heat or cool your home, get internet access, and hook up your smart home gadgets. Double points if you need to work on your electrical or plumbing in the new home.
Data permeates everything we do too. A move requires updating your employment, banking, credit card, DMV records, and more with your new address. You must simultaneously discover where to find all these same things in your new neighborhood.
And through it all, you’ll need a plan, budget, timetable, and a slew of contracts, agreements, invoices, and coordination. It’s good to maintain some Governance over all the new people, processes, technology, and data.
That’s just moving houses. Moving a multinational organization from doing things the old way to the new way certainly increases the complexity. Still, the principles remain the same. To manage a business transformation mobilization project, you must break the problem down into the constituent dimensions and identify what those dimensions look like in their current state. Then, you must envision what they will look like in the future state and what’s involved in making the leap. Once you have defined the starting point and finish line, you must also integrate the various activities into a coordinated collective effort.
This is where a transformation mobilization methodology comes in.
Our Systematic Approach to Mobilization
At every project kick-off, we ask and answer four fundamental questions:
- What needs to get done and why?
- Who is required to do it?
- When do all the things need to get done?
- Knowing the above: how much will it cost, and what is the benefit of doing it?
At its heart, Mobilization is all about getting those four questions answered with as high of certainty as possible to prepare for the work ahead properly. Without missing some crucial lurking dependency, this is where the breakdown across the five dimensions becomes critical. Following this systematic approach of integrating the five core dimensions helps avoid those costly breakdowns and smooth the transition.
When thinking about mobilizing a significant initiative, you’ll need to start by asking who is impacted by this transformation?
It’s common to feel resistance to transformation efforts. Lives will change as a result of the changes you’re making. It’s prudent to have a plan for managing the discomfort and people’s attitudes regarding the transformation.
Regardless of how big or small the transformation initiative might be, you must consider the various impacted stakeholder groups if you’re changing processes, locations, technologies, or organizational hierarchies. For example, if you have an aging workforce, you may need to spend more time training on new technologies or processes. If you’re changing vendors or markets, you will need to address how to manage both the old and new relationships. Consider team dynamics and working methods if you need to hire outsiders to help you transform.
You will always need time from existing personnel to support the project. It’s equally important to consider how to offload their work or backfill them for the project’s duration.
In short, the People dimension during a mobilization is all about understanding who will be impacted by the change, who will need to be involved in the difference, and who will need to be managed and assisted to adopt the change effectively.
Getting beyond high-level concepts requires mapping from the current way of doing things to the new method.
Many organizations fall into the trap of doing a detailed design before starting the project. Instead, they jump straight into the ‘why not do things a new way’ mentality, hoping that the new future state is the only thing that will matter. While, on the surface, it’s decent to want to encourage the transformation, taking this approach fails to understand how big a leap it will be for the various groups of people who must start doing things differently.
Understanding the difference between the current ways of working and expected future ways also creates a common language for all stakeholders to use. It’s crucial to align the business processes involved in the transformation with the many levels of detail in each end-to-end process. This “what do we do here” exercise exposes many shadow processes and hidden interdependencies across disparate groups. By bringing those processes to light, you can get out ahead of any rework that, had it gone unnoticed, would have a high cost, timeline, or adoption impact.
Look at the most significant changes you anticipate in each functional area to find these hidden processes. Then, identify the business processes that are involved at each level. Once identified, get together with the key subject matter experts in each department or group to understand the current processes. When done correctly, you will be equipped to map the business processes performed at each location, the number of people involved, and the systems (including interfaces), primary data sets, tools, and equipment used.
The more process flow diagrams and other visual aids you can get or create during this exercise, the easier it will be for you to properly understand the scope of the process changes that will result from your transformation.
Technology runs the world, so it’s not surprising that the tech side of your transformation mobilization will be a significant factor. To make sense of the implicated tech changes, you must break down the tech assessment during mobilization into its corresponding elements (Ishikawa diagrams optional):
- IT infrastructure: the hardware, data centers, servers, networking equipment, cloud hosts, environments, etc.
- Application layer: the software, systems, apps, services, etc.
- Integration layer – the pipes that connect everything: interfaces, middleware, batch files, etc.
- IT peripheral equipment: the physical devices people use to connect to the application layer, phones, printers, scanners, RF devices, etc.
Each of these areas enables the next, and a change in the others will impact each. By understanding how these four types of technology assets work together to drive various business processes, you can understand what technology changes mean for your organization.
The majority of business transformation complexity results from multiple, not singular, pieces of software. This integrated landscape adds significant complexity to mobilization initiatives. For this reason, the best practice to properly assess and prepare your transformation project is to cultivate the “end-to-end technology solution” mindset that considers the changes to the entire landscape by the project rather than focusing on the primary component directly involved.
Without data, tech is useless. Understanding the scope of data, types of data, and quality of the data that your transformation will impact is the final piece of the puzzle. Data can typically be classified as:
- Master Data: the core information about your products, customers, and vendors.
- Functional Data: the various attributes of Master Data used by different functional areas.
- Transactional Data: the information that captures all of the day-to-day activities of the business e.g. invoices, inventory movements, orders, etc.
It’s crucial to conduct data discovery and profiling as part of your mobilization. In going through this exercise, you will understand the magnitude of the scope and effort you will face during the implementation of your transformation. Mapping the various data entities against the applications, business processes, and integrations shines a light on the multiple users and consumers of the data across the organization.
Along the same vein, it’s vital to take inventory of the various data sets to generate business intelligence reports and KPIs. Doing so will help you understand what needs to be modified or updated due to any data structure or architecture changes. Analytics is often overlooked until the last part of a transformation, but analyzing changes to reports early on exposes often-missed requirements and considerations that save headaches later on.
Looking at your data, it’s a good idea to consider the following:
- The quality of a given data entity
- How does one data entity connect with another
- Redundancies, conflicts, or inconsistencies in datasets
- The functions, users, and analytics that use the data
- The process of managing the data
By completing your data assessment and profiling exercise, you will find areas where you need to enrich, cleanse, and transform existing data as you move into the new world. Understanding the scope and size of that effort early on will enable you to size the data team properly and further clarify the steps for Technology, Process, and People dimensions.
It’s crucial to put up guardrails for the transformation during a mobilization. That’s where Governance comes into play.
The umbrella term governance captures the various management elements required to keep the other four dimensions working in concert. Governance in mobilization, specifically, answers how to:
- Address funding and business cases
- Manage financial and regulatory compliance requirements
- Interact with vendors and third-party engagements
- Define the scope of the transformation across all core mobilization areas
- Plan the timeline for implementation
- Outline the methodology, ways of working, and operating model for development and change management
In other words, governance allows the right people to begin working on the right thing, the right way at the right time.
Start Before You’re Ready
There’s a saying that sometimes you have to slow down to go faster. There is a difference between acting for acting and taking the time to create a strategy that allows one to achieve actual progress. This principle is the underpinning of project mobilization. Pay a little now to save yourself much more later down the road.
Going through the mapping, assessing, profiling, and scope confirmation exercise before time and treasure are committed to a strategic initiative creates the difference between a heroic fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants rollercoaster and a smooth, well-controlled implementation of a strategic vision.
But remember, a mobilization rubric is a flexible approach grounded in principles and guiding considerations. Different projects and organizations face the greater or lesser ability to deep dive into each of the dimensions involved — and that’s ok! Even a high-level understanding of a given area is better than none.
Perfection should never be the enemy of the good. But, it is always a good idea to ask the right set of questions early on to understand the journey better.