The Impact of Organisational Capabilities on Project Success

Delivering projects – particularly those aimed at implementing strategy – remains a challenge, one where the success rate has not improved over the past 25 years. Numerous studies confirm what we already know, that in all probability your project will not deliver its intended outcomes. According to John P Kotter, Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, only about 5% of large-scale transformational change projects are successful.

Many explanations are given, and as many solutions offered – most of them focused on improving the ‘mechanics’ of project management and the skills of project managers. While these are necessary they are not sufficient as they do not address the underlying reasons why most projects fail to deliver their intended outcomes, namely that insufficient attention is given to the embedded organisational capabilities that define an organisation’s trajectory. After all, the purpose of strategy implementation projects is to change the trajectory of the organisation – and increasingly that of its partners, as is often the case in joint ventures.

When a strategy implementation project comes up against organisational capabilities that are not aligned with its target trajectory, it will inevitably fail, either because they were not considered at all or their impact underestimated. These organisational capabilities are often described as the organisation’s ‘antibodies’ to change. Some organisational capabilities are easily recognisable, while others only become apparent when they are experienced. Successfully changing an organisation’s trajectory therefore involves introducing new organisational capabilities, strengthening others and ‘retiring’ some.

In this Formicio Point of View we define what we mean by organisational capabilities and how they determine an organisation’s trajectory. We also introduce a simple method for assessing their impact.

We hope you will find it interesting and helpful.

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David Trafford
Peter Boggis
Frank Dannenhauer