Today, like yesterday and doubtless tomorrow; change is coming down the pipe. Depending on your rank and role; you may conceive, approve, plan, execute or be the recipient of efforts to strengthen, grow, streamline, consolidate or simply improve what the business does and how it does it.  

Here’s the bad news… The odds are stacked against you! Never in the history of corporate transformation have so many projects delivered so little, so late, so poorly, at so much cost and with so much aggravation.  During my research into why transformation projects fail to meet expectations I came upon something that is usually overlooked, ignored or taken for granted. Far too often, it sneaks up and bites transformation where it hurts! 

Back in the 1960 -70’s; business and government began to move into the information age. Management needed a way to deploy new systems, new processes and new ways of doing business. Project management techniques used in construction/engineering projects were well suited for these early efforts to automate the business along vertical, functional lines. The very means by which these new ways of doing business were delivered (linear project thinking) became second nature, permeating corporate and individual thinking to such an extent that it is ingrained in the very psyche of those who want to make the business better and those who are charged with making it happen. What worked quite well in the past is now the de facto standard.  

Linear project thinking was not created for the information age; it has been around for a long, long time. If one wanted to build a pyramid, dam, railway, etc. one used linear project management techniques. One started with an empty space or obliterated whatever occupied that space then built to spec, to budget, to schedule. If one had to build a pyramid, one used linear project thinking. One did not need to contend with or even consider that lots of other pyramid building outfits would be building pyramids for lots of different pharaohs, each with different ideas and designs in exactly the same empty space where you are building your pyramid.  

In today’s business world, there are no empty spaces where linear project thinking can truly work as well as it does when things are being built in real empty spaces. Today; multiple, concurrent change projects are busily working across the business using linear project techniques designed for just one project building one thing in one empty space. Today, multiple projects are targeting the same people, processes or functions in the same part of the business for many different reasons and each is marching to very different orders, timelines and priorities, each using linear, project techniques.  

Essentially, each and any project intent upon changing the business does so in a manner meant to meet that project’s specific objectives (this is a good thing) yet is utterly ignorant of how this project might impact other projects or vide versa (this is a very bad thing).

Essentially, linear project thinking overlooks or ignores the fact that other projects will be contemplating, competing or contending to make changes to the same part of the business while the project in question is underway.  

What can be done about it? For starters, ask questions whenever a project comes forward for approval. Ask questions like… 

What other projects have, are or will be working in the same relative space in the business?

Has this project spoken to that project?

Does that project know what this project intends?

Does that project have anything that this project could borrow or reuse?

What did that project teach us about this project?

Will what that project is doing get in the way of what this project wants to do?

Has anyone asked the end user which project is more important?

Has anyone asked whether what this project wants to do might or will be changed by the next project coming down the pipe?


Very quickly, those who bring projects forward for approval will realize they have to expand their thinking if they want their project to be approved. By simply instilling and insisting upon awareness of what the rest of the business is up to in the minds of those who approve, manage and execute projects, significant benefits to project(s) and business will accrue.  

This does not mean that linear, singular, insular project management techniques and the people who use them have to be thrown out – it merely means that the minds of those who use these techniques are much more in tune with the needs of the real business world. And that would be a very good thing, wouldn’t you agree? 

John Bolden RMA, Mil C, C/MBB-ISSSP. F-IICM, F-IPMS