With any project, you need to be clear why you want to do it before specifying what it is exactly that you want to do. So just waking up one day and saying, “we’re going move transaction processing to China”, is not a really great idea even if you can demonstrate that it reduces costs.
Why do I say that?
There are many reasons. For a start it makes logical sense! I mean, I don’t normally wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll go to London today”, without having a reason for going to London.
But there are a couple of reasons why it makes logical sense, and those are worth understanding.
The reason for the project will define the goal of the project
First, if you start by knowing why you’re going to do a project, you’ll start planning your project to achieve that. And everything you do will be geared to meeting that objective.
On the other hand, if you start by saying what you’re going to do (even if you then justify why you want to do it), then your objective ends there. You’re just going to focus on doing the project. And in the inevitable decision making during the project, you will tend to make the calls (over scope, cost, priority and timing) that get the project done, rather than delivering the benefits you were hoping for.
Let’s take two extremes to make a point:
Let’s say you decide to buy a new piece of software and pay somebody to install it. You’ve decided that’s what you’re going to do. So in come the consultants, out goes £50k. And you’ve got a nice new system. But what you find is that it only causes problems, because you didn’t think to train people up to use it. The new system doesn’t work with business procedures, because it’s set up completely differently. And it generates a whole host of manual effort, because you forgot a bunch of interfaces needed to be recoded. But you achieved what you wanted – because what you wanted was this new software installed.
On the other hand, if you say, “I want to save £30k per year by reducing the number of people it takes to do Task X”, then you will focus the design of your new solution on Task X. You will examine the procedures for it and analyse how the new solution affects it. You will analyse the department and decide how it should be structured to have less people and build in the new procedures. And if anything changes in the design or if anything seems defective during testing, your first concern will be whether you’re still going to get what you want out of the project. And what you want is not a new piece of software, it’s a saving of £30k per year.
Let’s face it. Most projects end when the new system has gone live, not when all the benefits have been realised. And that has to be wrong.
Does the project align with business strategy?
But secondly, understanding why first helps you to stay aligned with the strategic objectives of the business. Because if the reason for doing the project isn’t to help the business stay on its mission or achieve its vision, then it’s non-strategic. And it may distract people in the business from focusing on what they really need to do. Remember we don’t do things just to make our lives easier in Finance, or to be able to say we have the best Finance department. We exist to help the business performance to its maximum potential.
Considering a Finance Transformation project?
If the project you’re interested in thinking through is a Finance Transformation project, I have more comments on finding the right place to start. You can find them in my FREE 32-page guide. You can get it by clicking on this link.
If you’re interested in seeing how business change management fits in with strategy, planning and performance reporting, check out my ebook Supercharged Finance – Focusing Your Finance Function on Business Performance. It’s only £5.
The book describes the eight ingredients that go into managing business performance effectively. It demonstrates how they all work together to keep the business performing to its full potential. And it argues that the Finance function stands at the very heart of all of it.