In an ideal world, we might think that all business-wide functions, such as innovation, continuous improvement, quality or indeed digital transformation, might be located within a single department. And that this department would coordinate all the firm’s initiatives, large small alike, ultimately enabling the business’ strategic objectives to be achieved, more value to be created, and greater competitiveness to be delivered. This new unit, which could be called the “Competitiveness Department”, does not exist. Does it need to be invented? Should not all these initiatives on quality, innovation, operational excellence, digital transformation and other areas, each of which supplements the next - when they don’t contradict each other - be run from a single place in the company?
Every year, businesses start more and more programmes designed to enhance their competitiveness, on the pretext that the world is moving faster. And everyone willingly goes along with it. Quality, Health, Safety and Environment Departments strive to maintain standards and stabilise processes to avoid non-compliance. An operational excellence unit, attached haphazardly to the Production Department, or to Organisation & Methods (O&M), or perhaps standing entirely alone, rolls out various methodologies to eliminate waste and improve standards. Innovation, meanwhile (which could be attached to almost any department, given its multiple approaches) wants to reinvent everything. All these programmes, even the less visible of them, are an additional burden on employees’ daily work. It’s a meteor shower, pelting operational staff at least as much as their line managers.
Practical implementation of all these initiatives in operational departments is actually often placed on the shoulders of these same staff. They are forced to perpetually juggle the demands of different directives issued by different departments, with differing degrees of urgency. It can actually give the impression it is working. Everyone is busy, and attempts are made to organise the whole caboodle by means of working parties, Excel spreadsheets and MS Project and a disparate heap of other applications. The outcome is that operational staff are at least as swamped as the teams driving these company-wide programmes. The impression of getting nowhere fast is sometimes created…
Some businesses have opted to have an O&M Department to improve the monitoring of strategic projects and their impacts on various operational processes. However, over and above these large-scale projects, which are monitored because the executive committee views them as strategic, how should all transformation initiatives be run, collectively? How can businesses ensure that coordination between the various project portfolios (those monitored by the O&M Department and all the others) is consistent with individuals’ workloads and essential daily work?
So, to deliver a consistent message to employees, why not try this new Competitiveness Department, which would be home to the bodies overseeing quality, operational excellence, innovation, customer experience, digital transformation, etc.? Centrally positioned, it would facilitate common governance to set the various projects in motion. The approach would be completely free of compartmentalisation for employees, smoother and more consistent, encouraging managers to be more receptive to the various mechanisms driving transformation. Enthusiasm would return to staff, and projects emerge (almost) painlessly, or in any event with better results.
The drawback is that this Competitiveness Department could quickly become a separate organisation in its own right, within the company. Another pitfall is the possibility that such an entity could bring about a raft of complications because of its centralisation, with excessively formal procedures, less efficiency in decision making, a risk that certain projects could be given preference to the detriment of others, a certain remoteness from employees, etc.
While the search for cross-functionality and efficiency is crucial, a new Competitiveness Department is perhaps not the most clear-cut solution to apply. Whereas cross-functional, comprehensive leadership over all initiatives affecting operational staff is. The challenge is to manage all initiatives, not only those discussed in strategy committee meetings, and make them visible throughout their lifecycles, from the germ of the first idea to practical implementation. Hence Business Initiatives Lifecycle Management (BILM) is applied, by capturing initiatives from their outset, with no compartmentalisation, across the whole business. An explanation follows.
80% of projects (under all procedures combined) that are started in businesses end up in Excel spreadsheets. The outcome is the same everywhere - shortcomings in monitoring, visibility and the traceability of actions. To genuinely succeed in dealing with all subjects raised, the first step is to stop bombarding employees with umpteen Excel files and switch to proper coordination. To achieve this, simplified management of various project portfolios, using shared vocabulary, applicable from a very early stage in the life of projects, and encompassing all projects (not only the strategic ones), is the best way to successful achieve transformations within the business.
Before you finally decide on a package, it is essential to begin by disseminating best project management practice throughout the business. Make use of our expert view to assist you:
To reinforce the application of best practice and increase project impacts in future, the next step is to seek to make all initiatives accessible to all stakeholders, within a collaborative project management platform. While the process is still driven by those managing the initiatives portfolio, the software solution does actually support them, and make their lives easier. The benefits mentioned by staff responsible for coordinating initiatives include:
The benefit is that it combines both a method and a management system, not so much to provide centralised governance as to galvanise the company in a coordinated manner… one that operational staff can tolerate. A business-wide portfolio prevents the largest projects (viewed as affecting operational staff) being the only projects that see the light of day. A business-wide portfolio makes it possible for all stakeholders to adopt a common language for projects, and a common scorecard to rank initiatives’ benefits. A business-wide portfolio ensures, lastly, that subjects are visible sooner, and that the various initiatives are consistent with each other. A specific software package makes for a unified, accessible and comprehensive approach.
Operational staff cannot rewrite the rules by themselves. The involvement of sponsors and senior management is crucial to making transformation projects a success. Strong, motivated governance is necessary. However, another reason many projects fail to reach completion, despite a strong push from top management at the outset, is that employees and middle management do not have sufficient room for manoeuvre. The “best efforts” principle, which has worked for a long time in terms of running projects alongside core-business activities, no longer applies. Everyone is severely short of time.
Staff must be given back that room for manoeuvre and the bombardment of uncoordinated initiatives from different departments needs to stop. We should dare to rethink how we work and, with top management’s support, make genuinely collaborative processes the core of our internal operations. Feel free to download our e-book on best practice in collaborative project management to inspire your next steps.
A shared project management culture, and top management’s commitment to more collaborative project management using a specifically-designed system, make the winning formula for sustainable and effective competitiveness.