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Now What? How to Start Planning a Transformation Project


OK, you have a transformation project you need to do. Maybe the manager or supervisor at your community organization has asked you to do one, or your funder has suggested it. Maybe the Community Board for your organization has a good idea. But you haven’t done one before, or haven’t been involved too much in a transformation project to date, so you aren’t sure where to start.

So, what do you do first?


All transformation projects boil down to improving your organization in some way to achieve more. Maybe you need to figure out how to expand your current service offering, or you need to improve client service quality, or maybe figure out how to improve service while your staff are working in a hybrid virtual/home model.

It actually doesn’t matter what type of improvement or transformation you are doing, as you can follow these three steps every single time, no matter the size of the project.


Step 1: Start With the Why

This may sound theoretical but stick with me because this helps direct your whole project.


Start with asking yourself “Why do I need this project?”, or “What am I going to get out of it at the end?”, or “Why will this project help?”.


Depending on your answer, you will know the kind of project you will be doing, the kind of activities you need, the skills required, who to involve and the end deliverables.


That’s a lot of juice out of one question!


For instance, if you answer the question with “I need to cut costs” or “keep costs low while I add clients” then that tells you a bunch of things:

  • What are your standard costs for delivering this service?

  • What are your cost drivers?

  • Even more basic: what does it take to deliver this service?

These questions tell me what kind of data to collect: cost data and service level data. That alone tells me whom I need to include in my project: someone from our finance department, and anyone from our organization that knows about how we plan and deliver the service. And I always want to figure out how to include clients in my project: what do they think? What do they want?

If you answer the question with something like “I need to improve my services”, then you that tells you some things you need to know or do in the project:

  • What are my current service levels? How do I even figure that out?

  • What do my clients think about my services?

  • Where do we face service challenges right now? Why? What are we doing about it?

I use this step at the very beginning of every project I do, regardless of size or budget as it tells me which questions to ask, which tells me what kind of data to collect, and who to collect it from.


Step 2: Envision Your Future

Before I do much of anything else, I always want to envision the ideal future state. What is it like? How is it different from now? Has my service improved in my ideal future state? Is it different? How? How do I know?

I encourage you to really be bold and think about the ideal future in detail: what kind of clients are we serving (the same or are they different?). How specifically is service different – faster? Higher quality? More diverse? Different locations?


How do you do this?

You brainstorm! You can do this on your own with a piece of paper or a word document, you can do this virtually with a few colleagues, or you can whiteboard it. You can brainstorm with different colleagues at different times (if you can’t find a common meeting time and space), and then concatenate the findings at the end by yourself.


Why is this useful?

With these first two steps – the Why and the Future State Vision – you now know where you think you want to go, what it will be like, and how it is different from today. That can inform what your analysis part of the project: what is different between your future and current state, and what will it take to get from here to there.


Step 3: What Will it Take to Implement This?

I now take the info from these first two steps to do a quick analysis of what it will take to do the project:

  • What are the goals of my project?

  • What kind of data do I need to collect?

  • Who do I talk to, to get that data?

  • How will I need to analyze it?

  • Given all of the above, what are the main steps I need to take to do the project?

  • How long do I think this project will take?

  • Is this all reasonable – do I think I can actually achieve the goal? If not, why not, and what can I do to achieve it?

The answers you have for all of the above can fuel all of your major project controls: a project charter, a project plan, a risk plan, a communications plan and a stakeholder engagement plan.

How Do I Action This?

In order to implement these ideas, the next time you have a project, no matter what the size:

  1. Book yourself and a few colleagues an hour in a room with a whiteboard

  2. Set yourself up for a brainstorming session

  3. Explain to your colleagues what you know about the project

  4. Brainstorm to Step #1 (Ask the Why) above, and write down all your information

  5. Brainstorm to Step #2, and write down all your information

  6. You guessed it…brainstorm Step #3 the same way

  7. Spend an hour after that sorting through the information and create a draft project charter

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