Tathagat Varma considers himself blessed to have worked for many companies where transformations didn’t turn out the way they should have. Some, like Siemens Telecommunications Software, don’t even exist now. But he said he was lucky to have learned from these experiences.

Mr. Varma focused his presentation on the reasons behind failure in transformation projects and what a project manager must do to ensure success.

He defined transformation as a marked change and an improvement. It’s about the ability to survive in the face of a changing landscape. It should be possible to measure the success of transformation with hard, unambiguous improvements in business metrics.

He said organizations must be able to "unfreeze the current stage" and make it more malleable to change, and then refreeze it. “Refreeze is the holy grail of change management and the weakest link in transformation. A major reason why transformations fail is because we are unable to stop the system from falling back into the old ways of doing things,” he remarked.

He laid out 9 critical factors that are important for project success — a compelling vision, the right sense of urgency, top leadership involvement, people engagement, communicating well to the front line, an integrated approach that involves both top-down and bottom-up, measuring progress objectively and honestly, creating lasting change, and building human, social, and cognitive skills in project managers.

On having a compelling vision, he said, “If we don't have a common, shared, and unified view, there cannot be any change because people are just going to pull in different directions.”

He also emphasized the need to convey the right sense of urgency. Being late to the market is a small data point. What leaders must do instead is quantify the loss in terms of real monetary value. Only then will the sense of urgency set in.

On the role of the top leadership, he said it was not merely about allocating resources, but also “about being knee-deep into the problem with the team in the trenches, where the heavy lifting is happening.”

Mr. Varma emphasized the importance of taking people along the transformation journey, rather than focusing on projects and processes alone. “If I have the right set of people, I can rebuild the processes. And I think a project manager has the charter and the ability to get the results delivered,” he remarked.