Project Management

Mastering Transformation: A Conversation with Brightline’s Tahirou Assane Oumarou

8 Apr 2021
Michael DePrisco
Organizational transformations are complex, and their success is far from guaranteed. New research from PMI’s Brightline Initiative, however, is helping clarify the dividing line between success and failure. PMI’s Mike DePrisco learns more in this conversation with Brightline director Tahirou Assane Oumarou.

Photo by @jeshoots on Unsplash

Transformation, by definition, involves a quantum-leap improvement in performance. That doesn’t come easily even under the best of circumstances.

PMI’s Brightline Initiative helps organizations to better navigate change and close the persistent gap between strategy design and implementation through a wealth of insights, analysis and resources.

To gain further insights into what makes for a successful transformation, Brightline recently conducted research among more than 1,000 C-level executives. In this Q&A, Tahirou Assane Oumarou, Brightline Director, and Mike DePrisco, PMI Chief Operating Officer, recently came together to explore some of these findings and discuss the implications for project management practitioners.

Mike: According to McKinsey, more than 70 percent of large-scale transformations fail. That’s a pretty shocking statistic. Does Brightline’s new research shed any light on why that number is so high?

Tahirou: I agree, it is a shocking figure, Mike, especially since strategic transformation is a must in today’s rapidly changing business landscape. As part of our research, we separated out high-performing organizations and tried to understand what set them apart from average or low performers. What we found is that high performers share certain key success characteristics. These include having:

  • Sufficient resources
  • An existing talent pool with an appropriate skill set
  • Efficient processes to guide strategy
  • Efficient handoffs between teams
  • Executive teams that are aligned on priorities

We also found a strong correlation between strategy implementation and transformation capabilities. The two are inextricably linked. Transformation capabilities are, in effect, a core competency within these organizations—essential for implementing strategy and foundational for growth. High-performing organizations, in fact, are roughly twice as likely as low-performing organizations to be “extremely effective” at transformation initiatives.

Mike: It sounds like transformation capabilities are a significant source of competitive advantage for high-performing organizations. How are they able to leverage this advantage?

Tahirou: Not only are high-performing organizations more effective at transforming—they also transform at a faster pace. And I don’t need to tell you how important speed is in today's competitive environment.

What’s also interesting is that faster-transforming organizations report having a greater focus on developing internal talent. At Brightline, we like to say that transformation is about people, not technology. That’s why internal employees—rather than outside consultants—should lead transformation efforts. As highlighted in the Brightline® Transformation Compass model, they understand the organization’s values better and can drive change faster than someone from the outside. Organizations should focus on improving internal learning and development programs while continuing to invest in recruitment.

Our research also suggests that high-performing organizations are more adaptable—another key element of competitive advantage. In fact, 86 percent of high-performing organizations say they’re adaptable, versus 48 percent of low performers. One reason high performers are more adaptable is because they’re more likely than average or low performers to use frameworks and tools in their transformation initiatives. A full 94 percent of adaptable organizations have formalized processes in place, compared to just 59 percent of rigid organizations.

Mike: I get that transformations are primarily about people, not technology. But surely technology must play some part in a successful transformation. What does Brightline’s research say about that?

Tahirou: Technology is key, Mike. In fact, “cutting-edge technology” is the most significant competitive advantage cited by high performers in successfully implementing strategic initiatives. It’s also a critical factor for transforming faster. Automation, cloud computing, AI, IoT, mobile devices and apps are all cited by respondents as impactful tools.

It’s interesting, however, that “cutting-edge technology” falls to number three as a priority for low-performing organizations. One possible explanation is that technology is less of a competitive advantage in companies with ineffective leadership or a toxic culture.

Mike: I’m glad you mentioned leadership, Tahirou. What role does it play in successful transformations?

Tahirou: It will come as no surprise, Mike, that strong leadership is critical for both effective transformations and successful implementation of strategic initiatives. In fact, without effective leadership, transformation efforts slow down. Leaders of organizations reporting a faster pace of transformation have a clear vision, tangible goals, strong industry experience and a deep understanding of the organization and its values. They also set a positive example and are committed to overarching transformation goals.

Leadership of this kind can come from the CEO, COO or CIO. At Brightline, we also advocate for installing a Chief Transformation Officer or CTO to act as steward of transformation initiatives. Appointing a CTO can serve as a catalyst to formalize transformation processes and ensure efficient handoffs among teams. It’s also a way of creating organization-wide accountability. It ensures there is one person in the organization whose sole priority is transformation—thus closing any leadership gaps.

Mike: In light of this research, what can project professionals do to sharpen their transformation skills?

Tahirou: Many project professionals would like to expand their roles and take on greater responsibility for managing or supporting transformations. A great place to start is PMI’s new Organizational Transformation: Foundation (OTF) offering. This is the first in an upcoming series of courses designed to help project leaders cultivate significant change within an organization. And it’s all based on the Brightline® Transformation Compass model.

The course’s nine modules serve as a toolkit for project professionals to understand how organizations transform properly and efficiently. They can use this knowledge to become trusted and reliable forces and advocates on project and organization-wide cross-functional teams working on transformation initiatives. They’ll be able to drive change throughout the organization and lead their teams in a more effective and efficient way.

Mike: Thanks for the reminder, Tahirou. And thanks to Brightline for all their support in developing OTF.

Tahirou: You’re more than welcome, Mike. Keep an eye out for the follow-up transformation courses that are in development now.

Michael DePrisco Michael DePrisco

As Chief Operating Officer (COO), Michael (Mike) DePrisco provides executive leadership to the Global Operations Group, supporting more than 1.4M active certification holders, 680,000 members, and 300 chapters from over 200 countries. He is responsible for the Product Portfolio, EPMO, Culture & Change Management, Digital Group, and Customer Care teams. His team's focus is on excellence in the execution of all major change initiatives at the Institute, digital product delivery and customer support, and optimization of ways of working, culture and change management.