Headlines: November 1st, 2004

Some two thirds of improvement initiatives fail because public and private sector organisations manage them in a disjointed way. This is a major finding from a survey of senior executives and project managers at major UK financial institutions, IT/telecoms and public sector organisations by the Cranfield School of Management. Although there was a recognition among the managers surveyed that it is vital for departments or organisations to work together, they admitted that there is little ability to pull together to deliver the desired outcome. As a result, rather than delivering solutions, the initiatives themselves become part of the problem.The survey covered the Criminal Justice System and the drive for closer integration between courts, probationary services, police and prisons. It also covered the Health Service which is seeking greater cooperation between, among others, GPs, hospitals and Health Authorities. It showed that two thirds of these organisations work in a disjointed way, allowing each initiative to develop its own language, use different and conflicting methods, and employ different teams and consultants.

It is claimed that the survey begins to explain why so few improvement initiatives actually succeed in delivering tangible results. Different improvement teams end up competing with one another especially where they have to contend for resources to progress their initiative. Each team is allowed to develop its own methods and values which may not always accord with those of other teams.

The results also show that the strategy of most organisations provides little direction or support for improvement initiatives. More than two-thirds of the senior executives and project managers polled stated that their organisation’s business strategy does not incorporate change implications necessary to fulfil the strategy. It is argued that the use of the phrase ‘strategic’ to describe large projects and initiatives should be banned unless improvement initiatives are integral to strategy implementation.