Don’t make an improvement project more complex than it needs to be

 When running improvement programmes and projects in organisations, there is always a discussion about how far-reaching the programme should be and how wide the scope.  Simple projects can be delivered quickly but may not be wide enough to deliver the real benefits.  Wide reaching projects provide more opportunities to deliver significant benefits but increase the risk and timescales.

Creating the right scope is about delivering the critical outcomes and target benefits but it will also determine whether the organisation perceives the improvement as a success and so it will shape the appetite for future change.

I can think of 3 improvement programmes I have been involved in which were hugely complex:

  1. A product development programme which focused on a wide product range and involved a complete redesign of all products, materials and manufacturing methods.  The manufacturing introduction ran very late and whilst the new range was launched on time, there were huge supply issues for many months afterwards.
  2. A data centre transfer from an inhouse operation to a new external supplier in which a simultaneous change was made in storage technology, infrastructure hardware and server technology.  The programme ran late and introduced significant risk around the ongoing customer service.
  3. A business start-up where the target delivery was a very widely scoped product offering.  In the end the timescales proved to be too long and the investment too high to be acceptable.

All these programmes might have been simplified from the start to ensure that the improvement was delivered and did not result in delays and damage to customer relationships.

How should complex programmes be approached?

It is always vital to engage in hard thinking about your improvement programme before starting the delivery activities so that there is firm and committed agreement on the scope and approach from the start. 

There are standard options for programme simplification especially by looking to pull forward the feasibility assessment of new ideas and technologies:

  1. Use a Feasibility / Concept Design phase to look at the full scope of how to deliver the critical outcomes.  This can lead to a focused programme of delivery.
  2. Conduct the early trial of a new technology at the start.  For example, use a simple Proof of Concept approach and follow this with a pilot area before implementing on a critical one.  Provide time to learn lessons from each iteration.
  3. Deliver the product in an “easy to provide / easy to use” format to get early feedback.  For example, with data products, deliver the analysis as reports to explore where the value lies for customers before generating a complete analytical tool.
  4. Seek to deliver a Minimum Viable Product which can give value to clients or the internal user group.  Follow this with planned iterative releases to address faults / bugs and to add new features / enhancements.
  5. Engage with customers early to test how valuable they find the product.  For example, test the business requirements / specification; review the usability design; trial the customer demos; make full use of the MVP release.  Charge for these releases as early as possible as this will give the most complete feedback on value.

It is vital to get to a stage of receiving customer and user feedback as early as possible.

One word of caution – avoid descoping a programme in a way that removes all chance of receiving the target benefit.  For example, try to cover the whole business process but apply it to a reduced area; deliver a product to customers which delivers value rather than developing a small feature in depth.

Above all never allow the illusion of fast delivery to drive out the possibility of providing real value to the target customers.

Andrew Kearns

Hartswood Management Ltd

Delivering real transformation

Suggestions for further actions:

  1. Read Changing Spots – a systems approach to change management for understanding how to lead a step-change improvement programme (see
  2. Reflect on your organisation and the culture towards the delivery of improvement.  Where does your organisation sit on the continuum from speed to high quality; from excitement over new technology to risk aversion?  What methods might you use to ensure better programme delivery in your organisation?

For advice on structuring your transformation or change programme please email

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