Action plan management as the key to business transformation

Mar 2nd, 2018

Being an airline pilot is a demanding job. It requires a thorough approach, the ability to stay calm under pressure, and the right information delivered in real time, and continuously updated.

To take the right decisions (fuel management, flight path, etc.), a pilot needs environment data during the flight preparation phase, such as flying conditions, the destination, route and the weather. During the flight, the pilot needs to be able to control many parameters (the altitude, fuel gauge, no warning lights, etc.) to metaphorically pull the right levers at the right time, to correct the flight path, or take emergency decisions when necessary, or quite simply to check that everything is running according to the flight plan…. but without dealing with the full complexity of every control in the cockpit.

Many examples of action plans operate in the same way: observation of the current situation, correction as needed by pulling the right levers, and checking that everything matches the flight plan, or rather, matches the initial action plan.

And the success of the continuous improvement and organisational transformation process is dependent on this good management of action plans. What follows explains why…

Action plan management and change management

Ongoing change is part and parcel of the life of any business, in response to instability and developments in its environment. Change management means anticipating, defining and then implementing this transformation process as calmly and efficiently as possible.

However, much like piloting an aircraft, change management can be affected by unforeseen events. And without proper preparation and a thorough procedure, reaching the final destination can become complicated. Under such circumstances, what are the failure factors and the secrets of success?

What change management entails

Before talking about what does and does not work in this area, it is important to reiterate that any business transformation requires the change management aspect to be properly considered if the transformation is to succeed. Otherwise the risk of failure becomes too great.

In fact, change always entails a break from the past: shifting away from ways of thinking or from operating methods that might now be obsolete, and the injection of fresh ideas. Managing this process is, however, not always a simple matter… It must nonetheless be undertaken proactively, viewed not only as a necessity but also as an opportunity.

What change management really means?

Change management involves various factors, giving rise to as many action plans as there are changes to be made:

  • Business practices (how things are done);
  • Working conditions (the environment);
  • Tools and systems;
  • Organisation (areas of authority, functional demarcations);
  • Business line or trade (the area of expertise of business operations);
  • Corporate strategy (objectives to be met);
  • Culture (value system).

But regardless of the nature of the change, the crucial point is that change only comes about through the positive energy of the individuals who are implementing that change.

Failure factors

We are talking about change management because statistics on the failure of projects and action plans are occasionally quite alarming and this can pose real operational problems and even affect an organisation’s long-term future. More than half of all projects exceed their budget, fall behind schedule or quite simply fail to achieve the expected results.

What reasons lie behind such figures? There are a few recurring failure factors severely hampering successful implementation of action plans and, above all, the meeting of objectives:

  • Low engagement from C-Level: if management does not get involved, it will not allocate the necessary resources and neither will it provide the momentum that change requires.
  • No stakeholder acceptance: through lack of information, communication or training, absence of buy-in inevitably slows down the smooth running of action plans.
  • A lack ofunderstanding about stakeholder expectations.
  • Poor management of problems, risks and emergency situations.
  • An ineffective action plan management system, or no system at all.

The head is moving too fast for the legs - poor implementation or poorly specified deliverables are seen all too often, a result of the major issue of lack of communication or understanding.

Success factors

In view of the above, it is easy to deduce the secrets of successful action plan management:

  • Ensure buy-in from the management team and employees;
  • Have a clear communal picture of the objectives to be met;
  • Galvanise the parties driving change (“lead change, don’t suffer it”);
  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more;
  • Assess and showcase the outcomes;
  • Measure and promote successes;
  • And continue to lead, train and drive development…

To make change management a success, then, a business needs to be structured around the process, and those managing projects need to become real action plan “pilots” with the skills described in the introduction. But beware; there are action plans and action plans.

Operational and strategic management of action plans

Genuine organisational transformation can only occur as a long-term exercise by coordinating action plans methodically and with staff involvement, as we have already seen. However, action plan management will vary depending on the nature of the project, the level of management and the systems used.

The two levels of action plan management

In the first instance, management will be hands-on to a greater or lesser extent depending on the type of action plan. A strategic project will require closer attention and more frequent checks compared with an operational project.

There are therefore two levels of management, depending on the “pilot”:

  • Management of an operational action plan by a project manager at grassroots, who will regularly track project progress, achievements, difficulties encountered and the possible solutions, and will take any decisions necessary for successful implementation.
  • Management of action plans from an executive viewpoint, by senior management at arm’s length from ongoing projects. At this level, the focus is not managing successful implementation of a project, but rather monitoring the results of actions, and the contribution made more generally to the overall performance of the business.
Metrics appropriate to the different levels of management.

For operational management, it is important to have an overview of all projects, per project manager, to be able to organise them, track their progress, update them, resolve issues and allocate the necessary resources.

At the executive level, it is vital to have a consolidated view of all current projects, the resources allocated, the expenditure and costs incurred to check that the company’s actions do in fact serve the organisation’s strategic objectives. KPIs make it possible to prioritise actions and determine which of them should be kept, boosted, rectified or cancelled.

This information can be collated within an action plan management software. Such software can lessen the workload, making some tasks easier (reporting, updates, KPI creation) and crucially providing a consolidated view of all the actions taken to facilitate rapid decision-taking thanks to the key performance indicators.

Essential tools for action plan management

As we have already mentioned, an appropriate action plan management system is essential to facilitate both communication and actual management. Its features will ensure acceptance of the process and its proper use by staff.

The features that will really save time and improve efficiency found in an effective action plan management system are:

At the operational level:

  • A straightforward, user-friendly system, securing user buy-in;
  • Comprehensive monitoring of the action plan lifecycle, from the initial idea to implementation;
  • Real-time monitoring;
  • Clear, shared progress reports.

At the executive level:

  • Pragmatic analysis tools;
  • A consolidated view of all current action plans;
  • Prioritising and decision-support features;
  • Cost/benefit analysis.

Overall, such a system needs to be:

  • Collaborative: the system should encourage a move towards a more collaborative work organisation;
  • Mobile: current usage is no longer desk-bound;
  • Flexible: adaptable to business constraints;
  • And, of course, fully secure.

A company will see a successful transformation through detailed and thorough action plan management, working at two levels, to choose the right actions to take and to see them successfully concluded. If you wish to find out best practice to deliver successful action plans, download our e-book without delay: