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Your transformation programme needs action (planning)

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 26 Feb 2024

In the latest in our series on implementing a transformation programme, Neil Cutting looks at the steps required to create a concrete action plan.

When building an action plan, the challenge can often be: “The change programme is so big and multi-year, how do I get started?” In many ways, this is similar to the annual planning cycle we follow in finance – both require a list of deliverables with clear set roles and responsibilities. But to be successful you need to be aware of some key differences.

In recent articles, we shared the GAME PLAN framework, which is all about helping leaders design and start implementing a transformation programme to achieve an already agreed goal. It breaks down across two themes: the sequential phasing of the transformation (GAME); and the change management foundations (PLAN). This article focuses on action planning in a transformation programme environment.

It’s worth emphasising that while we’re talking about project management principles, transformation is an iterative process. Constant change is now the new normal – a mindset you will have to adopt as part of your daily decision-making. This is sometimes referred to as building the change muscle in your organisation for the long-term.


Just like when we set annual budgets and annual performance objectives for our teams, we need to set time-bound objectives for our transformation programme. Great journeys begin with the first step. A project action plan will need to dovetail into any internal fiscal reporting budget and business plan requirements, even if the timeframes are different. It’s therefore helpful to break the change into achievable bite-sized chunks.

If you’re looking at action planning, you should have completed a gap analysis and laid out the foundations for the project, which we covered previously. Therefore, you should have already confirmed:

  • overarching transformation goals (e.g, environmental, social and governance or finance function transformation); 
  • three to five perspectives to be considered (e.g, process or people capability);
  • a high-level maturity goal (using the Levels 1 to 5 outlined here) for both budget and business plan timeframes (see diagram for reference); and
  • difficult strategic decisions, so you know where to focus (e.g, prioritise technology).

Now that we have completed our gap analysis, we need to develop our action plan, so you can quickly clarify with stakeholders what you will be working on and delivering (what’s ‘in scope’) and, more importantly, what you will not be doing (what’s ‘out of scope’). Being clear on what is out of scope can be a tricky conversation, since it may mean making it crystal clear that an executive’s pet project, although valuable, is de-prioritised for this timeframe.

Your action plan checklist is:

1) Define your list of projects and group into workstreams (where appropriate)

Before we start this section, let’s clarify the difference between a programme and a project. A transformation programme will have defined longer term benefits (similar to finance exercises such as driving revenue, cost efficiencies or governance improvement), whereas a project is a shorter duration set of tasks that produce a specific output (such as implementing automated bank reconciliations). 

For larger programmes, projects are often grouped into themes called work streams (e.g, accelerate month-end to three-day close) to aid project management and communication with stakeholders. Work streams are not essential, but as the project list grows, they become more important.


You need to be able to communicate this at both a detailed and macro level. This has similarities to the process of preparing consolidated accounts; you need to define the right chunks. Similar to ownership for a division or legal entity, the projects and milestones must be crystal clear.

2) Define scope and goals

Define your goals for each of your projects and then decide on three to five milestones for each project using the change management foundations and pillars we discussed in the previous project management article. Further details to help in managing scope definition can be found at Primavera P6 PM Guidance

Traditional finance goals are often well defined over time, but when it comes to defining change programme milestones, these might be for something that hasn’t been tackled before. One way to mitigate this is to draft something that can be shared with the project board for feedback.

Sometimes the hardest thing to overcome is the blank page of actions, but just writing down a list of, say, 10 actions helps overcome this and can help the team get on a roll.

3) Clarify ownership 

In the same way that we assign budget responsibilities, assign ownership using the RACI framework: responsible, accountable, consulted and informed (explained in this Forbes article). One way to also think about it is:

  • Responsible – the person who does the work
  • Accountable – who the buck stops with
  • Consulted – who you seek input from 
  • Informed – who is told of the outcome

Keep this framework in mind when you allocate roles and responsibilities. Some teams become overwhelmed as they believe they need to check every action and deliverable with too many internal people, but this creates a massive barrier to change. An effective solution is to use the simple checklist that finance teams use regularly for process workflow diagrams – just make sure that this is agreed and signed off by the project board.

4) Design a tracker 

Create and populate a simple action tracker, which will be updated regularly and shared with senior leadership. An example of this can be found in my earlier article on action planning. It is critical to share and seek approval for this from the project board.

Add in extra supporting action-planning detail, where necessary. This will vary based on the size and complexity of the project and may require considerations around resourcing, risk and communications.

5) Design a one-page scorecard for the project board

Once you have worked through the details, you need to create a simple one-page project scorecard – a dashboard on a page would do – that you can share with your project board on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. This should be geared around informing on progress and highlighting where help is needed to smash blockers and barriers. Do not underestimate the difficulty in doing this, since it shows where the prioritisation or concerns are in a programme. 

Keep the foundations of transformation management in mind throughout this process. These were covered in detail in our previous article. Our next article will focus on the second of our change management foundations, ‘Learn as you go’ – the ‘L’ in ‘PLAN’. This covers the importance of keeping a flexible, open and agile mindset as you embark on your transformation journey.

Communication to both the project board and other stakeholders is critical around any transformation project. This makes it easier to ask for help if something raises red flags, or you need support in making a decision or help removing barriers, such as a lack of resource.

Neil Cutting is Transformation Director at Oracle.

Related content

Webinar series

In our second webinar of the series on 16 April, we explore the four key steps to consider when designing and developing your transformation programme.. Find out more about this event and other topics in the series.

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