How can a large corporation cut through the traditional breakdowns and failures in the implementation of complex, large-scale projects? On the heels of two failed project launches—due largely to lack of teamwork in the delivery team, misalignment between the business and the IT organization, and inconsistent internal leadership expectations about how to achieve success—a major global enterprise invited Dialogos to provide strategic support for a broad-scale SAP implementation. Partnering with a strong new leader, Dialogos helped the Company open pathways for real breakthrough across project teams and their business clients—enabling them to launch a global, operational SAP system on time and within budget.
After struggling for many years with legacy systems and failed implementation and change efforts, a major global company made the decision to implement SAP within a wide sector of its business. Having spent more than $300m and struggling through two failed launches, the organization acknowledged the need for a significant change. The organization chose a new project leader who had been trained in Dialogos’ approach, and who understood that the company’s current system was designed to produce exactly the results it was delivering. At his prompting, they consolidated a divided project leadership structure, to produce one team and a singular focus. Dialogos was commissioned to provide strategic support and team development expertise. Key areas we focused on included the lack of teamwork in the delivery team, misalignment between the business and the IT organization, and inconsistent internal expectations about how to achieve success—all conditions that contributed to the lack of focus and missed deadlines inevitable.
One of the central challenges that needed to be addressed was one of perception—the mental models people held about themselves and the project. Often, staff and functional projects get little attention from senior business leadership. Despite claims about the “strategic necessity” of these activities, business leaders tend to see them as “necessary evils” or “support activities” best handled through delegation. The failure to see business activities as an integrated whole creates a great deal of rework, turf battles, and false boundaries, which greatly increase inefficiency and, in this case, result in a consistent pattern of failure.
By “pre-investing” in team alignment and enfranchising all the players at the outset, the project leader would be able to anticipate and bypass many of the difficulties the previous project managers had encountered. It was also apparent that the level of complexity required in the processes of standardization and integration would require a new kind of collaboration—both within the team, and between the delivery team and the business. The delivery team needed to come to terms with this requirement and to learn to operate in alignment, rather than in its familiar, but silo-ed units.
Central to our approach was the need to produce a focused pattern of alignment across and within each of the teams involved, including a clear new culture of collaboration and focus. With this base, we could then design transformational and accelerated methods of delivery that would include all stakeholders.
Dialogos helped clarify the team’s vision, developed a methodology for solving complex problems and enabling open engagement, and produced a sense of unified focus. Key to success was building the team’s capacity to create safe settings in which team members could honestly and transparently resolve problems as they arose, rather than work in isolation and hide problems.
Dialogos also conducted sessions between the business and the delivery team, fostering similar results. The business and project personnel jointly created an integrated vision of what success would look like, and were able to practice a method of conflict resolution that put them in position to handle the high pressure and stress that would inevitably emerge as the project moved toward final implementation.
One example of a process we deployed: One hundred days ahead of the “Go Live” date, teams were asked to predict how people’s behaviors and the organization’s structures would likely contribute to or intensify the anticipated problems. Employees role-played potential conflicts and behaviors and, in so doing, shifted their assumptions about themselves and each other. This provided insight into team structures and possibilities for conflict resolution and transformation. This process unleashed a tremendous amount of hopefulness and ambition, which continued to build through the delivery cycle as the staff learned how to effectively use and sustain these creative environments.
These efforts catalyzed an unprecedented level of vision for desired outcomes—opening pathways for a real breakthrough across the teams and their business clients. As a result, the project met both its budget and new deadline. Several participants noted that, had Dialogos been contracted earlier in the effort, many of the difficulties could have been avoided altogether.
Thanks to the success of this effort, senior leadership has asked Dialogos to facilitate far more upstream in the process for future deployments. We have since supported, and helped the company prepare for, implementation in other parts of the world.
Key results included:
- A global, operational SAP system as originally envisioned, on time and within budget
- Transformed collective thinking, team maturation, and individual leadership through targeted interventions
- A shared vision and aspirations for the company
- Participants prepared to maintain key practices and processes—encouraging further innovation and making initiatives more sustainable
- Widely used tools for improved reflection, dialogue, and learning
Company team members who participated in this intervention have since been responsible for designing and implementing many other innovations, including new systems and processes for Fuels Value Chains, transportation, procurement, and management information systems.