Want transformation results fast? Put your senior staff to work.

Launching a key, strategic project, like defining a target operating model or developing a new organisation design, can be a career defining moment for senior leaders. If the project delivers its benefits, it can set up the organisation and its leader for sustained success. But, if it does not, it can mean the end of a career or a business.

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So I am surprised that I see some projects without fulltime, dedicated resources from the highest levels of an organisation.

In a way, I can understand the rationale for a leader to not release their best, senior staff. Senior staff are costly resources and leaders may feel that projects are not the best way to use them. Or maybe leaders are afraid that the areas managed by those senior staff members will falter without them. But, for me, these shouldn’t even be considerations because the cost of not applying senior staff to such projects is far greater.

Let’s consider the alternative: using junior staff on key, strategic projects. Junior staff will make the project either less effective or less efficient: less effective, by providing poor advice or subject matter expertise; or less efficient, by needing to frequently turn to more senior staff for advice, inputs, or strategic direction. And, consequently, the project team will likely be more uncertain, be less able to move forward at the required pace, or find itself second-guessing of its own outputs.

In comparison, a recent organisation design project on which I worked had seven senior managers (Managing Director minus two) dedicated to project team full-time for four weeks. At first, I was astounded that the Managing Director would give the project so many of the leadership team’s direct reports. However, the result made it more than worthwhile.

Because the project team had been fully released from their day-to-day responsibilities the project team was able to work uninterrupted. And because the project team were sufficiently senior, representing every area of the business, the project team was able to work without needing frequent outside counsel. This meant that, in the space of just two weeks, the project team was able to define and agree with the project board the design principles, the high-level ways of working, and the high-level organisation design. Then, in the following two weeks, the project team completed the detailed organisation design, supporting job descriptions, updated business processes, and updated meeting calendar. It was an astounding level of output made only possible by the quality of staff on the project team.

Not all projects will be able to deliver results so quickly. But knowing that such results are available with the right project team, I wonder why leaders would choose to run their strategic projects any other way.