Leading the transformation


Navigating disorder in times of crises

Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School

United Kingdom


The term transformation is often used to identify and describe a more intense, extreme and radical change in form, shape, nature or appearance. Such a radical shift requires a significant transition to new mindsets, thought processes and operating paradigms.

Transformation is particularly applicable in the context of large organisations looking for alternative future scenarios. Indeed, the notion of addressing the challenges associated with enabling, managing, leading, sponsoring and directing major strategic change initiatives has preoccupied corporate leaders for decades. Kotter (1996: 3) maintains that the amount of traumatic, significant change has been growing tremendously and will likely continue to do so as powerful macroeconomic forces continue to play out. Kotter (1995: 59) observes that when large companies try to remake and reposition themselves, they often encounter a number of major obstacles which he characterises as the eight significant errors and traps that lead to the failure of transformation efforts:

  1. Not establishing a great enough sense of urgency
  2. Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition
  3. Lacking a vision (that clarifies the projected future direction)
  4. Under-communicating the vision
  5. Not removing obstacles to the new vision
  6. Not systematically planning for and creating short-term wins
  7. Declaring victory too soon
  8. Not anchoring changes in the corporation’s culture

While the downside of transformation is inevitable, the pain accompanying it is palpable in many organisations. The errors seem to dynamically combine in more volatile environments leading to significant consequences such as, slowing down the new initiatives, creating unnecessary resistance, frustrating employees and stifling change (Kotter, 1996: 15). The specific consequences include the following (p. 16):

  • New strategies aren’t implemented well
  • Acquisitions don’t achieve expected synergies
  • Reengineering takes too long and costs too much
  • Downsizing doesn’t get costs under control
  • Quality programs don’t deliver hoped for results.

Moreover, the conditions for making decisions without corporations are also shifting. The business environment demands more larger scale change (p.56). Decisions meanwhile, are:

  • based on bigger, more complex and more emotionally charged issues;
  • made more quickly;
  • made in a less certain environments;
  • require more sacrifice from those implementing the decisions;
  • furthermore, no one individual has the information needed to make the major decisions, nor the time and credibility needed to convince people to make them (ibid.)

More recently, Kotter (2014: 10) observes an even greater imperative and more urgent need to accelerate transformation through: innovation, productivity improvement, integration of acquisitions or global operations, key strategic change, cultural change, and profitable growth. Yet, organisations often introduce their own limits. Accordingly, Kotter also identifies a set of obstacles to making progress, including: limited number of recognised change leaders, silo parochialism, rules and procedures, pressure to make quarterly numbers, complacency and insufficient buy-in (ibid.).

Revisiting the topic of transformation after 20 years, Ashkenas (2015) points out that the success of transformation efforts still hovers at a persistently meagre rate of around 30%. Ashkenas explains that whilst traditional change management implies implementing finite, well defined initiatives, transformation requires a different order of magnitude of actions characterised by an interdependent and intersecting portfolio of initiatives, which aim to reinvent the organisation and redefine the business model based on a new vision of the future. The nature of such initiatives therefore implies a more courageous, unpredictable, iterative and experimental journey through uncharted territory, as leaders endeavour to make sense of the emerging new terrain, experimenting with and seeking new ways to survive, thrive and prosper.


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Routledge publishers.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

How to cite this paper: Dalcher, D. (2021). Leading the transformation: Navigating disorder in times of crises, Advances in Project Management Series, PM World Journal, Volume X, Issue I, January. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/pmwj101-Jan2021-Dalcher-leading-the-transformation.pdf



About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Professor, Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School, UK


Darren Dalcher, Ph.D., HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA, MINCOSE is Professor in Strategic Project Management at Lancaster University, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 300 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, a leading international software engineering journal. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the British Academy of Management and the International Council on Systems Engineering. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including The PMI Academic Insight Team, the CMI Academic Council and the APM Group Ethics and Standards Governance Board as well as the British Library Management Book of the Year Panel.  He is the Academic Advisor, author and co-Editor of the highly influential 7th edition of the APM Body of Knowledge. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal. He can be contacted at d.dalcher@lancaster.ac.uk.

To view other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.