Verax Consulting
Business transformation failure

The myth of business transformation failure

Recently on this site’s home page I declared that “most business transformations fail.” How convenient that is for someone like me who helps businesses transform their IT Service Management organisations. It’s a statement that strongly implies that unlike the majority of my incompetent competitors, I know something and do something that will make your business transformation succeed.

What's more, the idea that ‘most business transformations fail’ supported the more specific point (which I think still stands) that over the last decade the ways of assessing IT performance haven't changed, even though the IT landscape has morphed dramatically.

The Dangers of 'Almost Certain'

At first I was OK with this 'failure' idea for another reason - I was almost certain that I had read somewhere that 70% of transformational changes failed. Still, it’s a big claim and I decided to research it.

Some time later...

Happy days! It’s always good to be proven correct, because not only is it true, but McKinsey, the most authoritative consultancy around, confirm that it’s true! Here's the evidence.

Back to the Verax web site. Now I can quote McKinsey as my source and link to their slideshare. As an added bonus this proves that I’m not afraid to talk the talk with McKinsey, and makes me think that I gain a little more authority by association.

Some time later still...

But as I’m flicking through the Mckinsey slides I see out of the corner of my eye – damn! -that there is another slideshare by David Wilkinson called “Do 70% of Organizational Change Projects Really Fail?”

To cut a long story short, no, they don’t. Or if they do, there is “No Source – No Research – No Evidence” to support the claim.

Unfashionably Diligent

If you look at David’s presentation I think you’ll agree that he has done some unfashionably diligent research and been unable to find any evidence that 70% of project changes or business transformations fail. There are scraps of text that suggest that some people believe lots of projects fail, some illogical inferences are drawn, and some famous authors are misquoted.

But proof? None. In fact the only evidence appears to be some scrappy research (by McKinsey again!) that would suggest that the failure rate is more like 6%. That’s a big difference.

So, just an hour or so after making my original claim about transformation failure, and my home page had to be changed again. It no longer proclaims the idea of overwhelming project failure. even though at some level I had absolutely believed it to be true. The home page text now reads:

About the Author Dan McCarthy

Dan helps IT leaders to assess and improve their organisations and processes. He writes about improving working life, processes, and efficiency, with some left-field perspectives from his Anthropology background. Has been sighted lurking near pianos and guitars, as if to play them.

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