Q&A With Interim Digital Transformation Director
Paul Gilford is an interim Digital Transformation Director who possesses a wealth of experience in delivering programmes of change across multiple industries, including media, telecoms, technology and insurance. As a prior Senior Expert for McKinsey within their Business Technology practice, Paul has amassed many years’ experience in providing guidance and leading transformation programmes both across the UK and globally.
- What made you undertake Interim assignments?
A few years ago, I realised that I was most interested in leading large programmes – and that this interest was best furthered by de-anchoring myself from any one organisation. Interim work allows me to move between organisations, which gives me the ability to recognise patterns in organisational culture, identify opportunity areas, select a suitable transformation approach and programme design. If I stayed in one place permanently, I wouldn’t be able to do this.
- You managed a €1bn outsourcing programme during your ten years as a Programme Director at Vodafone. What was the most important thing that you learned?
Two key points actually, both specific to an outsourcing programme:
a) The importance of gathering a solid data set to form a strong basis for internal and external negotiation;
b) Clarity on what is not being outsourced. The act of outsourcing places a greater load on the retained organisation, meaning you have to be super clear on the shape, size and management processes which will bridge the two organisations. Successful outsourcing is about efficiency of transactions across organisational boundaries, after the deal has been done and the lawyers have gone home.
- Describe some of the biggest challenges and achievements that you have had as an Interim delivering large, wholesale programmes of change.
My programmes always have a significant technology element to them, and this usually throws up change management problems where adoption involves changing ways of working and fixing bad habits. Therefore, openness or resistance to change is critical and varies hugely by organisation, and this is often challenging to get right. Much depends upon aligning the whole organisation – from the CEO who needs to clearly broadcast the strategic imperative, down through the leadership teams and beyond. If you get this right, it is remarkable what progress can be made.
- How do you think Programme Management (PM) has developed over the years to ensure that ROI is improved?
The PM topic has been extensively researched in recent years, so root causes of time/cost overrun are more deeply understood now. These often stem from optimism bias at the outset, leading to faulty decision making. My view is that programme management techniques are improving, but so is the scale of ambition seen in organisations now, as they grapple with digitisation, globalisation and security drivers in what, for some, can seem a more defensive transformation environment. An example is the increased use of agile techniques which can be very effective in the right environment.
- What are your views of the practical application of project management methodologies on a global scale?
I’ve worked in various places around the world and actually haven’t seen any particular pattern in PM capability variation by location. Project management has been around as a recognised discipline for long enough now that the textbook tools and techniques have permeated very widely.
What I think does vary, more by organisation than location, is attitude to solving problems. My irritation with project management methods is that they focus too heavily on the process of managing risks and issues, but not enough on solving. I’ve seen organisations where people follow the PM method to the letter, escalate everything and solve nothing.
These environments tend not to be productive and can take on an air of permanent crisis. For me, to be successful at transformational leadership, you need to be calm and objective, seek out and analyse conflicts in evidence and empower people to take decisions at the right level in the organisation.
- During three years at McKinsey you oversaw £1bn+ SAP programmes. How did you ensure that they didn’t suffer the same fate as Hershey’s, especially given that it was McKinsey who wrote the famous article on project failure?
Hershey’s is a classic case, but there are plenty of other horror stories – some in the public domain, some not. What I think has changed is a greater level of risk awareness amongst executive leadership teams, making it easier to lock in some realism from the outset.
But there is no simple silver bullet for successful delivery of really large programmes – success has to be engineered and there is an awful lot that needs to be got right which cannot be predicted upfront. So, it’s about the journey and setting up the programme and its management team to be able to manage that journey and be robust to the unpredictable.
If you don’t get this right, then you create a dysfunctional organisation which is not sustainable and won’t survive for the duration of the programme. I think Peter Drucker had it right when he said “no institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organised in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”
Really large programmes take a long time and hero behaviour won’t get you through. So, for the big programmes, I focus on the organisation, evidence and getting the risk profile to a level commensurate with the longevity of the programme.
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