No matter what type of corporate transformation /business improvement initiative; no matter what size, scale, grandeur, cost, criticality or potential ROI; no matter what the reason or rationale… it is all but certain that whatever you wanted to do to improve the business did not meet expectations.

Along with whatever mediocre results, if any, that were actually delivered; you were probably inundated by a veritable deluge of cost overruns, delays, quality issues, business rebellions, vendor / consultant abandonment, stakeholder threats and sundry other issues and problems.   

Take heart, you are not alone! Fully 75% of all efforts to improve the business fail to meet expectations. Cold comfort in your hour of frustration perhaps; however, since you are probably prepared to do whatever it takes to find out why what was otherwise a neat, good and slick idea to improve the business blew up, take a few moments to consider Shooting at the Moon! 

Imagine you are left outside, in the dark and wondering what to do… Yes, yes, I know this occurs frequently given that improvement problems that arise time and time again; however, I need you to imagine you really are outside, at night.  

You have a super powerful gun. Aim the imaginary weapon at the Moon. Fire the weapon. Watch patiently with your eye glued to a telescope while you wait for the impact. You will have a very, very long time to wait. By the time your bullet gets to where you aimed, the Moon will be long gone!  

A simple metaphor perhaps but one that points to a key reason why so many corporate transformation / business improvement efforts fail to hit the target. An issue or opportunity presents itself today; an action plan is put in motion today to fix today’s problem at some point in the future (not today!).  Time passes, by the time the improvement is about ready to improve the business; the business is no longer as it was when the original need for the improvement arose. The reason why the improvement was necessary may still be out there but the business the improvement was meant to improve is not there now! 

Since most businesses do not fly in an orbit, why did the business move? Simple! The dynamics of the marketplace, economic or competitive pressures, new regulations and many other imperatives to change the business means that you are not the only person who aims a weapon at the Moon. Many other people across the business will be looking to change things, improve things, eliminate things, expand things, etc. according to their perception of what needs to be improved and they go off and do it.  

Herein, lies the problem (read the next bit slowly)… If these other people (one, some or all) manage to do what they want to do to improve the business before what you wanted to do to improve the business gets done – it is very likely that what you wanted to do will not fit, will not work or the piece(s) of the business you wanted to improve may even not exist anymore! Hence cost overruns, delays, business turmoil, etc, etc, etc.

The solution is very, very simple. Think like NASA! Aim where the Moon will be, not where it is! In other words, think about what will or might possibly cause the business to change between the moment when you launch an improvement (NOW) and the time when the improvement actually arrives at the target (THEN).  Ensure that the baseline assumptions of your initiative are framed in terms of what the business will be or will probably or may look like by the time your improvement is ready to improve the business.  

Yes, I know much will be unknown but the more you know about what others plan to do, are doing or have done and accommodate it in your planning, the better off your initiative and the business will be.  

If you incorporate pre-emptive thinking into how you envision, plan and execute improvements; you will lessen the frequency and severity of issues and problems that arise from shooting directly at the Moon to manageable even acceptable levels.  

Ooop’s! In suggesting you think like NASA, let me qualify the suggestion. I am suggesting you aim like NASA, nothing more. Thinking like NASA with respect to its procurement and spending practices should never, ever enter your thinking.  

If you would like to learn more about the research that underpins my thinking, feel free to browse my web presence at  

John Bolden



Looking for an off beat idea to rally the troops, build morale, create a moment of fun amidst the worries of the daily business? This treatment moves away from corporate transformation worries and concerns to present audiences with an ‘unusual’ subject that is an ideal agenda item for a management retreat, team building initiative or strategic transformation ‘kick-off’. John’s lifelong interest in military matters and his unique perspective of how and why history repeats itself on the battlefield and in the boardroom resulted in his developing a presentation that is engaging, entertaining and eye-opening. The session is framed by Sun Tzu’s tenets of warfare, each tenet sets the scene for a light hearted yet instructive comparative review of corporate transformation / business improvement projects that appear to echo the strategies, tactics and consequences of one or more military conflicts (500BC – 1945AD).  Audiences are transported into far flung realms of the past and present where Oracle (Ellison), Caesar, PeopleSoft (Conway), Vercingetorix, HP (Fiorina), Cornwallis, Nike (Knight), Patton, NPfIT (Gates/Blair), Xerxes and other illustrious icons of commerce/war are applauded and/or pilloried for their ambitions, ideas and outcomes…  Liberally scattered amidst the exemplars are thought provoking anecdotes and observations from John’s own experiences in the military and in the boardroom. Ever wondered what it was like to meet and speak with Rudolf Hess on a daily basis? Ever wondered what one would speak about when taking tea with the Queen and Prince Philip? Ever wondered what to do to build staff morale, what to do to provide a refreshing and energizing break from the day-to-day grind for your people, what to do to set the scene for the next big transformation effort?

Wonder no more! Call John today.

THE SUM OF CHANGE At any moment in time, every organization will be in the midst of change…  Some will face monumental pressures to deliver results, satisfy customers and clients, meet and even exceed stakeholder expectations and more.  Some will be investing heavily in growth / expansion initiatives such as merger, acquisition, new lines of business, new products, partnerships, alliances, etc.   Some will be responding to internal or external pressures to improve productivity, reduce costs, protect market share, enhance the bottom line, etc.  Some will be wrestling with regulatory change; Sarbanes Oxley and BASEL II for example place great demands upon organizations without due regard for the true complexity or cost of compliance.  Some will be venturing into new ways of conducting business in the virtual world through outsourcing, e-commerce, virtual business portals, etc.  Some will be wrestling with policy driven imperatives where those who contrive or concoct policy are at arms length from the efforts to implement policy.  Some will be caught between erstwhile social/political motives and the practicality of implementing what is needed, when it is needed.  Many organizations will be challenged by change to such an extent that many change initiatives of varying size, import and impact are concurrently seeking to change the organization in some way, in some form, at some time and, more often than not, in direct conflict/contention with what other change initiatives seek to accomplish.  Change takes many shapes and forms…  Some change is corporate in nature; criticality, cost, complexity or competitive sensitivity often determines when change is accorded corporate status and… nothing else matters.  Some change will be vertically oriented; cascading downward, reaching into most if not all organizational ‘boxes’ within the hierarchical organizational entity which is to be strengthened, improved, made better…  Some change will be horizontal, borne of the need to cross hierarchical boundaries in pursuit of seamless management of regions, products, segments, suppliers and so much more. Matrix management makes sense for the day-to-day operation of the business, navigating multiple layers of matrices in pursuit of change objectives is definitely not day-to-day business…  Much change will be localized; driven by tactical needs where day-to-day managers are accorded the ability to change / improve what their part of the business does and why, within reason. Local improvements are often silo in nature, not because they are secret but because no one else either needs or wants to know…

Any one change is multi-dimensional in terms of time, resources, dependencies, expectations and costs. Every change is subject to change as internal or external events of situations dictate.  Each and every single change initiative comprises ‘project’ perspectives and ‘organization’ perspectives, the fact that these perspective are often at odds with one another as well as with other ‘projects’ and other ‘organizations’ elsewhere across the enterprise further complicates what is already a tenuous objective. Is it any wonder 85% of all business improvement initiatives fail to meet expectations?  

The Sum of All Change; past, current and future, is not just a minefield of potential issues and problems for management. It is also the source of very significant opportunities to cut costs, save time, improve quality and avoid the typical issues that arise because critical elements of transformation have once again been overlooked, ignored or taken for granted.

Take a few minutes to speak with me about the Sum of Change. I coined the term back in 1984 when I first investigated and rationalized the phenomenal problems that arise when the Sum of Change is ignored and the tremendous opportunities that present themselves when the Sum of Change is managed to advantage.

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 

Efforts to deal with change in organizations almost always cost more than planned, take longer than planned, deliver less than planned and generate lasting resistance to future change.  Why do these attempts, known as change-management initiatives, fail so often? The reasons, excuses, and rationale are countless yet there is an underlying factor that is rarely noted – the absence of a Chief Change Officer, or CCO Leaders of organizations are embroiled in managing ego, power, passion, envy, politics, optics, vertical silos, turf, corporate structure, accountability, authority and not-in-my-backyard conflicts and issues. Vertical business structures provide superior/subordinate control that cascade downward yet horizontal, matrix management structures threaten (real or implied) power and control at all levels of the organizations. Is it any wonder good, worthy attempts to improve what the business does and how it does it crash and burn? Adding another executive title might be just too much to consider except, this would be a disservice since a key aspect of the CCO role is specifically to handle internecine warfare associated with change, quickly and bluntly. After all, dissent is just background noise to the grand objective.  With a CCO at the helm during change, much waste could be prevented, real results achieved, time saved and costs reduced. What might change entail? Some obvious larger examples are acquisition/merger integration, business re-engineering, business separation, new information systems, consolidation, business-process outsourcing, global applications and bricks-to-clicks conversion (a move from old-economy business practices to e-commerce).

Every internal resource who contributes in some way, shape or form to altering or adjusting the organization does so under the umbrella of change. All external resources (vendors, service providers and subject matter experts) who contribute tangible or intangible value to change are included as well.   Change includes all facets of enabling change from concept through to post injection assessment – on a generic basis it includes contributions from literally everyone;  executives, legal staff, strategy groups, board of directors and others during concept hardening; project managers, process engineers, technologists, testers, trainers, procedure writers, legal, marketing, corporate communications, finance, governance, compliance, human resources, receiving unit management, receiving unit staff and many external contributors during construction; many of these along with a host of specialists contribute during implementation and post-injection review.   A number of executives, including heads of information technology and chief information officers, may conclude they are de facto CCO’s. Wrong! The CCO role must be wide, deep and truly multidimensional. The compelling benefit of the CCO role is that it is rooted in independence, unbiased by line accountabilities, and unhindered by favouritism.  In my world, the CCO reports to the chief executive officer or even to the board of directors in exceptional cases and has authority to make sure change is as smooth, seamless, quick and efficient as possible and that it is capable of delivering the anticipated results. He or she ensures that all change across the width and depth of the organization is clear, cohesive and aligned with corporate objectives. Thus:– Preventing waste, replication, duplication and conflict through awareness of the state and context of all past, present and future change across the entire organization

– Ensuring that change is fully integrated within the organization as a whole, thereby eliminating unworthy, unneeded and unsanctioned change

– Knowing what worked and what didn’t, what can be reused, what should be stopped and what should be rethought

– Advising caution when receptivity for change or change saturation may threaten success

– Bringing clarity and cohesion to all change.   A CCO’s contributions can take many forms. Here are some examples:   Some initiatives target growth; others aim at improving productivity, reducing costs or concentrating on key objectives. Some are strategic, some tactical. All are in varying stages. The CCO is the central hub – interlocking and inter-relating all change across the enterprise to ensure better alignment of resources (time, money, resources) with corporate objectives. For example, the CCO might offer up:   – That it might be wise to cancel or cut back some initiatives because of replication elsewhere. Value: saving money and time while using scarce resources for higher priorities. – That, perhaps, some other initiatives should be combined since the return, chance of success or timings of each, separately, are less than stellar. Value: saving money, concentrating resources, consolidating risk. – That some objectives can be realized quicker and more simply by reusing components elsewhere from past change. Value: saving time, money and conserving scarce resources. Maximizing potential  

Typically large-scale change initiatives are highly resource-intensive, very costly and mission critical. These tend to last many months. The knowledgeable CCO CAN constantly review all change – conceptual, planned, in process or completed in part or in whole – across the organization in order to maintain cohesion, clarity, benefits and risk mitigation.   This will lead to questions such as: Are these linked? Does each know what the other is doing? Is this wise?   Mapping conceptual change maximizes future success potential. Take the example of an organization that is considering a new value laden business model that will require its major business units to re-engineer quickly in a smooth, synchronized fashion. The concept is still a work in progress and under wraps yet leaders are eager for the strategic benefits that will result. The CCO highlights potential issues and opportunities that the organization will face in getting to the end state. This is extremely valuable in determining how to execute:  – Simulated change – modelling “what is,” “what will be” and the “waves of change” the organization must pass through to get to the new model– Change receptivity – assessing how all or similar change worked before, where it was bad, where it was good, what worked and what failed– Change under way – examining the implications of all change under way that would be impacted by the new concept; analyzing the value, cost, need and priority of each, adjusting and refining focus, perhaps recommending Stop!

– Change replication/ reusability – assessing the potential of reusable components, processes or knowledge across the organization that can be utilized for this change initiative, to save time and money.  

Here are three illuminating illustrations of what happens when a CCO is not at the helm of change:

Nike has suffered through a $500 Million global ERP implementation underway for over five years with virtually no bottom line contribution and still needs hundreds of millions and more years to complete AND it is simply laid on top of the enterprise with no process integration or re-engineering costs or benefits, yet! Oh, by the way, it cost Nike $100 Million in lost sales and the stock went down by 20%. Goodness knows what the eventual cost will be and when ROI goals will be met. A CCO would have brought sanity to this before it started, segmenting the effort into manageable chunks, ensuring technology and processes were integrated for value and quick victories, a stepped progression toward the global objective. 

A global financial institution headquartered in Toronto was surprised to find it had over 1300 account opening processes worldwide, each developed with painstaking precision and accuracy at an estimated, fully burdened cost of at least $2,500,000 each. Over 900 of these had a possible reusable factor of 30%; meaning 30% of the cost of each of the 900 was used to build either mutations or direct duplicates of software, processes or collateral available for reuse elsewhere in the enterprise. Potentially, this outfit could have saved as much as $675,000,000 with CCO knowledge and guidance of past, present and future change.  A New Jersey based Enterprise Telecommunications Company used an outdated version of an application, heavily customized, in its US domestic operations. The CFO ordered a roll-out of the next version of the application to the rest of the world, vanilla flavour – no customization, with the order that all processes and practices around the world (except the US) were to be changed to fit this new application. Previously all international regions had home grown, customized systems. Chaos ensued globally; customers departed in droves, service levels plummeted, costs skyrocketed; process disconnects multiplied, language and culture impacts compounded. When the CFO tried to force US operations to use the new version; business units refused to accept the new application without radical customization. A CCO would have ensures cohesion and clarity and practicality of change saving countless millions from being wasted.   These examples are not extreme, similar debacles occur all the time, everywhere. 

In my world a Chief Change Officer ensures clarity and cohesion in all change planned and underway; the CCO extracts incremental value from previous change, using it to advantage to reduce cost and shorten timelines of future change; the CCO blends and mitigates the pressures of change into achievable, realistic projects that align with corporate objective exactly. A CCO is right for every industry, for every culture, for every enterprise and government.

You should consider a CCO in your world.

The image at the top of the page is one of the most unusual battles in the annals of warfare yet the situation, strategies and tactics employed there repeat over and over again in the workplace with the same disastrous results! Conversations to explore the scene and it’s relevance to your workplace welcomed…

On a collaborative basis I invite readers to contribute their experiences, anecdotes and/or examples of corporate transformation / business improvement debacles as a way for me to improve, widen and strengthen both the sum of projects that I have assessed (3,400+) and the specific elements of traits and tendencies identified to date.

Over time I intend to detail ‘debacles of interest’ here so that readers can consider and rank for themselves the relative competencies and capabilities of corporations and leaders therein who are supposed to be Icons of Commerce!   

For example: Like the title suggests… a business reengineering project in the UK was ‘supposed’ to cost around $12 Billion (give or take a few hundred million) and is now projected to cost well over $24 Billion (give or take several thousand million). This project was intended to make transactional and informational data flows slick, quick and accurate. New technology coupled with process reengineering promised much and has delivered very little so far…

Why would this happen? Who could possibly screw up so bad? Who is to blame and who came up with the idea in the first place? Last things first…

Bill Gates whispered in Tony Blair’s ear, Tony threw away the keys to the treasury, major consulting firms lined up at the trough and then reneged on commitments… For the rest of the story go here:,1540,2055085,00.asp