Creating a shared view of what success looks like is critical to effective change management, but what success looks like can vary drastically. Carol Morley looks at how integrating project/program management and change leadership at the project or program initiation stage can build a shared vision of success.

Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management states that integrating project and change management can increase delivery of project outcomes by 17%.

The research identified that a main contributor to increasing success is creating a shared objective, one that aligns the work and engages the people. Experience shows that the earlier the integration begins, the more enduring the benefits and the stickier the change will be.

The importance of having a shared view of success applies to program management as well, when the vision (the ‘what’) is known, but the ‘how’ is yet to be defined across the supporting projects.

Program managers (or project managers) can actively build this shared understanding by ensuring three key elements are included in program initiation and planning stages.

Start with why not what

Transformations are 8 times more likely to succeed

when senior leaders communicate openly and honestly about what is changing and why, according to McKinsey’s article, How to beat the transformation odds

To be most effective, this focus on why needs to start at program initiation and inform scope and measurements of success.

Most programs hold a kick-off workshop to get everyone on the same page in terms of objectives, governance, schedule, and funding.

Program managers and sponsors can use the kick-off to help the team understand why the program exists and build a shared understanding of what success will look like. Remember that not everyone is coming from the same starting point, so the program manager should regularly check with the team and surface any questions. It is only after the ‘why’ is understood that the program should move to defining desired outcomes and success criteria. Equipped with vision clarity, team members are more likely to identify relevant and appropriate success measures.

Understand what program success really means for you (and me, and us)

Program success factors are often defined and shared at the program level, while change most often happens at the individual or team level. This creates a gap between program intent and team member experience, which can fuel confusion, misperceptions, and disengagement.

As Ron Ashkenas shares in his Harvard Business Review article, To Lead Change, Explain the Context, team members are more likely to see the bigger picture and engage constructively when they know how the change will affect their work.

The same is true for program teams – taking the time to discuss what the program is looking to achieve and why, can lead to better outcomes through shared objectives and clearer view of success. Program kick-off is the optimal time to begin that contextualisation and sense-making process, with the program manager playing a critical facilitator role.

Program managers can use the success criteria definition process to build and reinforce program understanding by integrating three change management practices:

Involve the team in validating success measures – this helps build ownership and reinforces the program purpose. When success measures are defined solely between the program manager and sponsor or steering committee, the opportunity is missed to create shared understanding.

According to McKinsey’s Transformational Change Survey, team members are five times more likely to feel ownership when they participate in co-creation rather than just told a solution.

Avoid defining success measures as standalone criteria, where each needs to be achieved in isolation. Instead, view the measures holistically, acknowledging importance of one measure may go up or down based on its relationship with another measure. One way to do this is to rank success criteria in priority order, or assign a percentage based on how important each element is to program success. This then provides a starting point for inevitable discussions around delivery trade-offs.

Use scenario testing to refine prioritisation and uncover any confusion around what the program looks to achieve. Experience shows this step is often skipped in the interest of time, but it is invaluable in surfacing personal and organisational assumptions around how a program will be delivered and what success looks like in practice.

Lead the change

Change leadership is not a role restricted to sponsors and change managers; everyone involved in your program can be a change leader. Once it is known in the organisation that an individual is on the program team, it is likely they will be asked questions about the program – what a fantastic opportunity to spread the vision of success!

When a critical mass of leaders can contextualise the change and create an environment where team members can connect to program purpose, the likelihood of program success increases significantly. So how can the program manager support team members in embracing their roles as change leaders from initiation?

  1. Set the expectation that you, and all program team members, can articulate the program vision and success measures in engaging, plain language that anyone in the organisation can understand. Avoid corporate speak, function-specific jargon, or high-level marketing phrases that can dilute the clarity and perceived authenticity of your message. Work with your communications manager or engage an external facilitator to help the team build impactful storytelling skills.
  2. Empower team members to share their understanding of the change within the context of the larger narrative. According to the McKinsey survey, using aligned communication narratives can increase success rate of transformation by 3.8 times. Consistency is key, but resist the urge to over-script; instead, support change leaders with dedicated time and expert advice to help them develop and practice their own story until they can speak comfortably and authentically about what the program wants to achieve.


Clarity brings success

Building this shared vision of program success, and the ability to contextualise and communicate that vision, is especially critical for cross-functional and multi-year programs where there may be turnover in team members and sponsors over time. Ensuring everyone experiences this process of understanding and contextualising program vision will help build program continuity and increase probability of successful delivery. Program managers are uniquely placed to make certain this occurs.