3 essential tips for driving a process change project

Janne Ohtonen

As process professionals, we’ve all seen it happen – a process change project that starts to go off the rails. Maybe it’s taking a lot more time and money than we expected or maybe it’s failing to produce as useful results as intended. Whatever the reason, something has gone wrong and it does not reflect well on the project team and the company.

Unfortunately, project failure is still all too common, but usually the causes are predictable. The most common reasons for the failures of process change projects include lack of executive support, incapable project management, incomplete process change requirements and mismanaging or not setting expectations of stakeholders.

Here are three tips that will help you to make sure that these common ailments don’t affect your process change projects:

Tip #1: Lead the process change projects with people in mind

Leading process change projects is the most important factor for success. That leading has to occur on all organizational levels. The first line of leadership is the direct project management of the project, while the second line is of how bought in company top management is to the project overall.

Since the project manager is usually in the direct leading role for process change projects, let’s think what kind of person the project manager should be. That person should prefer influence to power. People are more likely to approach the project manager with their problems if that person is able to persuade others to move forward in a positive way.

Meanwhile, using power to force something through may result in resistance. The project manager should also be quick to understand what is important and what is not. There is so much information that it is easy to get derailed. The project manager is the person who should be at all times on the right track, taking everyone else in the same direction. And to stay right on track the project manager needs to observe and re-evaluate the situation continuously and vigorously. They also have to be likable person so that they can be well networked with all related stakeholders. Project management is a people job.

The value of executive support also should not be underestimated. Without proper sponsorship from top management, process improvement projects are unlikely to succeed. Full stop. Top management holds the keys to everything that any process change projects require in ample supply: budget, decisions and the ability to empower people. To get them board, make sure you have done the shareholder analysis and involvement plan properly. You need to proactively manage the expectations of all stakeholders and then keep them up-to-date, which leads us nicely to tip #2.

Tip #2: Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communication is a very important success factor for driving process change projects. Even difficult obstacles may be overcome more easily through good quality communication. You need to ask relevant questions and then listen to, understand and influence the stakeholders. Many problems disappear when they are looked from a different angle, so it is the job of any leader to influence stakeholders to move forward in a positive way.

Another good communication tip is not to use information as a weapon or a means of control. Use the information as positive force, which can be used to do things better. Do not hold back any information and make sure everyone gets the information they need. Do not get involved with any political games, but end them straight at the start when you first hear about them. Exerciseindependent and fair consensus-building skills when conflict arises.

Adhere to predictable communication schedules, so that everyone knows when they are going to get what types of information. This way people will not have to come and ask when they get it.

Tip #3: Focus on outcomes - not outputs and issues

Move your thoughts from issues to outcomes. If you are able to master this skill, you will see improvement on all areas of your life, not just in leading process change projects. It is that powerful a technique!

Many people are issue focused and see problems everywhere. Some of them dwell in those problems and cause delays. Others efficiently solve those problems, but never rise from the effect level to causal, questioning of what is important and what is not.

But you can do better! You can stop focusing on the issues and put all your energy into achieving outcomes rather than outputs. This way you will see that most of the problems are not actually that big problems. Also, you will always have the roadmap clear in your mind and therefore you are able to steer the project to right direction regardless of situation.

This point might best be illustrated through a real-life example. I went to consult at a big broadcasting company, which had a process-modeling project going on. The manager was happy to tell me that they started the project 2 years ago and they have been able to model over 400 processes. Now they wanted to speed up the project and had hired me as a business analyst to do just that. He saw a lot of problems in the current modeling team and also in the tools that were being used to model the processes.

But, I didn’t ask him too much about that. What I asked was: "Why do you model these processes?" and can you guess the answer? He explained that they want to model the processes so they can start optimizing and automating them. That makes sense in issue-based world, but not in outcome-based world. I enquired what percentage of those modeled processes the manager thought are still up to date. The answer was approximately less than 40%.

So, here we go. Two years, hundreds of thousands of Euros and a lot of potential was wasted. The company was building an obsolete process model. Moving to outcome-based thinking we were able to identify, what the business pain points were and we immediately started a process change project, which was able to produce both automation and efficiency improvements within the first six months. And we didn’t use those process models, but we looked into what needed to be achieved and how we could achieve it.


Driving process change projects successfully requires several leadership components to be in place. Both top and project management need to have really good communication and management skills. Like John C. Maxwell says, everything rises and falls with leadership.

We need to keep in mind that people are the ones executing projects. Therefore, people skills are important. Projects are a temporary organization established for specific goals, so those people need strong steering towards the chosen target. This can be achieved through effective communication, great leadership and outcome based thinking.

What tips could you share with us to drive process change projects? And maybe you could share with us your most interesting experiences?