Before you start planning your change management activities (or any other project activities), you have to do one very critical step first: identify what the success criteria are going to be.

Many people skip this step. And that is a mistake – for several reasons:

  1. You want all decision makers to agree on what success is going to look like
  2. All activities in your plan must support these success criteria
  3. Progress towards success needs to be measured to build support and momentum
A Cautionary Tale

Many years ago we were part of a project involving a major bank. This large commercial bank was considering taking over the brick and mortar operations of an arm’s length government agency. Our role was to develop a change management plan as part of an overall business strategy. We went ahead and did our usual stakeholder analysis and developed what we felt was a pretty good plan. After three months we were ready for approval to begin implementing.

Imagine our surprise when, just at that point, one of the key government ministers vehemently opposed the entire strategy! At the end we had to scrap the project. Talk about a heart breaking and embarrassing outcome.

So what happened? Quite simply, we, as a project team, did not stop to get agreement on what success for the project was going to look like. We knew the objective, to transition a bricks and mortar business from the agency to the bank. But meeting an objective does not equal being successful.

Aligning Decision Makers

Being successful means also meeting expectations of key decision makers. For this minister in our particular case, success would have been public recognition from the bank, a sort of veiled apology for some things that happened in the past (without getting into revealing details). They also wanted particular regions to be treated differently for an initial period of time (an election was on the horizon). Unfortunately due to our oversight, our strategy had none of these.

We were proud of our work, but we missed the mark. It turned out this was a classic case of being excellent at climbing up a tree – only to discover we were climbing up the wrong tree.

It was a lesson we never forgot. Now we do not proceed with planning unless all of the key decision makers agree, as a group, on what the success factors are going to be and how they would be measured. Sometimes enforcing this step has caused some tension, but we have never had any more regrets.

Activities should support success criteria

All roads SHOULD lead to Rome. Ask yourself when you are about to start an activity: “Does that activity support one of your success metrics?” In other words, does your activity contribute to the success of the project? If the answer is not an absolute “yes”, you have to ask yourself why you are even considering it.

As a project manager you can also use this to manage scope creep. Much of the PM’s time, mindshare and political capital can be spent on this activity. Challenging team members to justify additional activities based on how they contribute to your project’s success criteria, helps reduce additional time consuming make-work.

Measuring progress toward success

Everyone is likely familiar with the statement, “what gets measured gets done.” Quite simply, if you do not define what success looks like at the beginning, how will you know that you are getting there? And how will you know that you have arrived?

Success needs to be visible in peoples’ minds. Decision makers have to determine what success will actually “look like” for their business. Basically, your key stakeholders need to be able to picture success. Measurements make vague statements visible. And that means that getting agreement on these tangible outcomes sets you on a solid path to success.

Most projects, especially longer ones, go through what is sometimes known semi-jokingly as “the pit of despair”. It’s that phase where everyone is busy grinding it out with seemingly little to show for it. If you have success measures in place you can demonstrate progress toward this desired outcome.

This can be very powerful when combined with regular progress updates that focus on timelines and task completion. It will help you boost team morale and can keep sponsors more content, and therefore less likely to interfere.

What you can do now

If you are in the process of planning your next project, take a moment to review whether you have success criteria, and whether they are measurable. Then, check during your next project team and steering committee meeting whether all of you agree on these. You may be surprised.
If you are in the middle of your project and haven’t done this, it’s never too late. You can always insert an agenda item in your next status meeting to define, and align on, the picture of success you are all aiming for. Some new tasks may come out of it, but you may also be pleasantly rewarded as some activities fall away.

Enjoy your journey toward success!

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