4 Steps to Avoid Failure to Launch

Who hasn’t seen a change initiative experience failure to launch? You know the story:

  • At the beginning of the year everyone aligns around the project and a senior executive (or two) agrees to sponsor it.
  • Funding is secured and resources provided.
  • The team begins working and as months go by, deliverables are created.

The challenges come when it is time for rollout or implementation – especially if it is on a really big scale covering multiple geographies, perhaps even multiple countries (or global!).

The lack of traction to go live on schedule (even when the schedule may have been adjusted – multiple times) could be explained by things like:

  • Our sponsor(s) changed. A different executive moved into that role mid-way during the year and needed to get up to speed.
  • The business requirements changed. The company acquired another line of business.
  • Our scope changed. It was developed for one organization to use and now the entire enterprise wants to use it.

Meanwhile the team is typically spending hours and hours in meetings getting almost nothing done because decisions need to be made at the highest levels and widely communicated to all stakeholders.

How do you solve the “failure to launch” dilemma?

Take these four steps:

  • Ensure role clarity.  Players may have changed since the project started. The initiating sponsor who provided funding is different from sustaining sponsors who are needed to cascade support throughout the organization. Be certain all sponsors know their roles, responsibilities and to do’s. Chances are good they don’t, or you would not be in this situation. Don’t assume.
  • Start small, but start. As Patti Johnson talks about in her book Make Waves, it doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be big. Try incrementalism. Get it out there and learn from it. Experiment!
  • Manage expectations. You cannot over-communicate. Identify your stakeholders and engage them in a way that is meaningful to them. Generate demand for your work so they will ask for it.
  • Keep going. The business will always change during a project. Expect it and plan for it. The leaders will rotate. Conduct sponsorship succession planning. As scope varies, plan for future releases or enhancements to account for additions. Don’t let it surprise you.

If you want your team to remain engaged in the project, they need to see progress. This means their work needs to actually roll out and reach implementation. Don’t let all the hard work and the investment fail to get off of the ground.

Betsy Winkler is Partner at PeopleResults. She has been working on change projects for 20+ years. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1 or on email at bwinkler@people-results.com. Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.