Strongly correlated electron systems often exhibit very strong interactions between structural and electronic degrees of freedom that lead to complex and interesting phase diagrams. For technological applications of these materials it is important to learn how to drive transitions from one phase to another. A key question here is the ultimate speed of such phase transitions, and to understand how a phase transition evolves in the time domain. Here we apply time-resolved X-ray diffraction to directly measure the changes in long-range order during ultrafast melting of the charge and orbitally ordered phase in a perovskite manganite. We find that although the actual change in crystal symmetry associated with this transition occurs over different timescales characteristic of the many electronic and vibrational coordinates of the system, the dynamics of the phase transformation can be well described using a single time-dependent 'order parameter' that depends exclusively on the electronic excitation.