Strong Project & Change Management Pave Way to Asia’s Digital Success

September 7, 2020
5 Minute Read

COVID-19 is not slowing Asia’s march toward digitization, but companies must still adjust. Improving project and change management is a good way to both compete today and emerge stronger tomorrow.

The odds look good—but not on closer inspection.

According to a 2017 report by the Project Management Institute, 14% of IT projects fail. An 86% success rate sounds reasonable, right? Yes, until you consider that of those projects which didn’t fail outright, nearly a third—31%—didn’t meet their goals, over 40% went over budget, and nearly half weren’t delivered on time.

With results like this, you’d be forgiven if Han Solo’s iconic line from Star Wars comes to mind: “Never tell me the odds…”

Why the poor results? Some of the biggest roadblocks preventing IT projects from being fully completed to the client’s satisfaction can be traced to inadequate program and project management. Proper program and project management addresses the majority of issues, which include:

  • Leveraging existing corporate mandated project management frameworks and tools
  • Relying too much on system integrator (SI) program management and not enough—or at all—on internal
  • Program Management Offices (PMOs) to anticipate issues
  • Not developing program project charter
  • Developing a proper risk and mitigation register
  • Establishing proper status updates for all project stakeholders (i.e., executives and team members)
  • Proper communication plans to the organization, to ready the organization for the changes and ensure adoption

And the list goes on.

This reality is especially challenging for Asia Pacific. There, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), some 60% of the region’s GDP will be derived from digital products or services created through digital transformation by 2021. This development alone will add nearly 1% annually to Asia Pacific’s GDP, or US$1.16 trillion by 2022.

But there’s another blocker complicating the region’s digital progress. The COVID-19 global pandemic is transforming regional workforces and workplaces, resulting in delays and lost revenue. In some instances, on-premises work continues as before. In others, blended solutions of work-from-home and work-from-office are being piloted. Each case requires special considerations, regardless of whether this “new normal” becomes permanent—or is just a prelude for returning to the “old normal.”

Whatever the scenario, the reality is that COVID-19 has changed how organizations need to collaborate when working on initiatives. It already means requiring more visibility and reporting down to the task level in a streamlined and efficient manner. That’s not likely to change under any circumstance.

In our work with several Asia-based companies undertaking significant digitization projects, we’ve noticed three main solutions that can be helpful when building—or continuing—digital initiatives in the region.

Establish a Well-structured Project Management Framework

A robust project management framework will preserve your investment and ensure that resources—people, time and money—are used strategically and align to defined business needs. All too often, companies embark on complex change programs without adequately defining the end-state and expected outcomes. Hoping that the organization will rally and create alignment or that the system integrator will pull the program together.

These hopes usually end in costly budget overruns and missed deadlines that negatively impact employee morale by increasing skepticism and reducing excitement for the planned business changes. Project and change management are sometimes not well appreciated and treated as an afterthought in planning for business change.

This can be a huge costly mistake. An effective project management framework will provide management with visibility and the critical information to make needed trade-offs while managing program scope and resource investments. It’s much more than status reports and project dashboards. It’s a management framework to help identify and manage risks while aligning work across teams to ensure consistency and efficiency. It’s an insurance policy for success.

A world-renowned lubricant company based in Asia was faced with rising supply costs and falling customer demand as well as cash management challenges stemming from the global pandemic. With limited internal capacity and capability during the pandemic to drive change, they looked for external support from RGP.

RGP helped them develop a project management framework that included “to-be” state KPI diagrams, dashboard templates, data gap analyses and more. Based on the gaps identified in the first phase, we helped them design new process flows, data collection and KPI reports and dashboards. By applying this framework, our client was able to achieve their goals with more concrete governance structure, better status tracking and communications protocols to drive interdependent workstreams.

The project management framework also helped our client avoid potential program delays as well as facilitate faster decision-making for all stakeholders, thanks to more clearly defined project governance structure and decision-making metrics as well as regular reporting and meeting cadences.

Engage an Internal or Independent Project Manager

In too many cases, project management of a major digital transformation is left solely in the hands of the systems integrators. A big mistake. All too often, these complex projects need internal or independent project management, which can better reflect and represent the company’s interests to keep the project on track.

Why is this important? Because without an active seat at the table to better coordinate internal users, IT and the SI’s external tech support, the company’s specific needs may be overlooked during the project, and the investment itself could be endangered.

As the old saying goes, “trust, but verify.”

An Asia-based financial services company approached us for support with the transformation of their wealth management system. As we analyzed the situation, we saw that a much larger business transformation was underway, including implementation of a cloud-based software solution to run their internal HR, finance and IT administrative work.

This medium sized organization was undergoing a major business transformation impacting 20+ workstreams without a dedicated PMO to connect the dots across the enterprise. Based on our recommendations, they created an internal PMO, which we helped set up within six weeks. Soon, they were able to deploy standard PM practices, tools and templates while we trained their internal stakeholders in how to use the toolkit. The internal PMO provided much needed visibility to senior management and impacted stakeholders, integrating workstream efforts while eliminating potential redundancies, avoiding rework and establishing a clear unified vision for the transformation.

More importantly, the PMO streamlined and integrated program decision-making and approvals by linking project objectives to business strategies, driving a more agile and effective conflict resolution process.

The key was giving our client not just a better line of sight into a project, but helping them play a more proactive role, so they’re invested in the project’s success and not just waiting for the integrator to produce results. Or worse, excuses.

Be More Proactive with Change Management

Too often, companies undergoing digital transformations think it’s all about high-tech and nothing else. Wrong answer. “High-touch” matters, too—often more than most companies think. For projects to succeed over the long run—and definitely to realize the full value of the investment from a business standpoint—you have to help all impacted stakeholders understand, commit to, accept—and yes, embrace—the changes that arise from each digital transformation.

Approaching change management as a distinct and necessary program element is critical to successful business transformations. Companies need to win the hearts and minds of key stakeholders and employees to enable significant changes.

RGP recently worked with the Japanese subsidiary of a global insurance company that was undergoing several digital transformations within its operations and finance functions. The client wanted to better align the unit’s operations with changing market needs as well as global corporate standards using Lean practices and automation.

A major part of this engagement was helping the client to enable the mindset and behavior changes needed to make the transition a success. RGP worked with key client leaders to define success metrics, develop “future-state” descriptions including explanatory videos and change readiness assessments, and create a change-enablement network. Key to success was preparing everyone for the transformation, not just for a change in technology—but a change in culture.

System integrators and software vendors are experts in their technologies but are not always adept at the program management and change management elements that can enable a better, faster outcome while preserving the client’s investment in resources—people and money.

Clients need to take control to enable success by planning more proactively, driving the change agenda, and focusing not just on the technology—but on what the technology means for your people. The benefits of any major digital transformation—even one that’s executed flawlessly from a project management standpoint—can accrue only when your people are on board with the change.

Managers can’t always cavalierly say, “Never tell me the odds,” à la Han Solo and expect to achieve business results. But for those Asia-based enterprises currently undertaking digital transformations, there’s at least some peace of mind knowing that the steps above will help. This is especially true today. With COVID-19 changing so much of how business is conducted, and with digital transformations only increasing in importance for most businesses, who couldn’t benefit from a little more predictability?

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Simon Kong

VP, Advisory Services - Asia Pacific
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