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Project Manager or Transformation Manager?

For this CEO on the verge of initiating a major business transformation, it was clear that he had to appoint a transformation manager. But who? What’s the best type of person? Someone with a strong project management profile? Or someone who has demonstrated the capacity to manage both the business side and the “soft”, human component of transformation? After careful consideration, he chose someone who had demonstrated strong strategic and rallying capabilities. The outcome proved that he had made the right choice.

Transformation management is much more than project or program management

Leaders often prefer to assign the management of their business transformation to their program or project office. After all, that office already has a good grasp of the company’s projects, as well as project execution expertise. And if the planned transformation is simply a series of large projects, that makes sense. However, if the transformation is major, involving the whole organization, its structure, its culture and its modes of operation, in my experience it is generally advisable to set up a transformation office, led by a transformation manager.

I also recommend that the transformation office report directly to the president. This high-level positioning legitimizes the transformation manager’s authority to intervene at all levels of the organization.

What are the key competencies of a transformation manager?

As the illustration below shows, managing a transformation is far more complex than managing a project or program.

A transformation manager must combine the ability to manage the relationship with project managers with a whole range of other skills. He or she must be:

  • Able to manage complex situations that combine strategic, financial, political, operational, management, human, inter-sectorial, hierarchical, budgetary, capacity, relational and temporal aspects. In short, all the keys to transformation
  • Able to navigate uncertainty and ambiguity
  • At ease working closely with senior executives
  • Able to act as an advisor, facilitator and coach at all levels of the organization
  • Able to rally people with diverging interests
  • A collaborator and an excellent communicator
  • Familiar with transformation strategies and strategic change management
  • Solution-oriented
  • Benefits-management-oriented throughout: before, during and after the transformation

In other words, managing a transformation is like conducting a symphony orchestra: the leader’s primary skill is the ability to always keep the big picture in mind and lead each group to add their effort to creating a whole that is much greater than the sum of the parts.

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