A Little Off-Beam
Have you ever worked on a project or programme that seemed to you to be a little off beam? Have you had conversations around the coffee machine where several people are shaking their heads in disbelief? But then they return to their work on delivering the programme anyway.
If that sounds familiar then ask yourself this. Since any project or programme consumes precious resources and man-time how is this possible? Who is to blame?
Generally it is because either the programme’s goals were inadequately specified or that they were specified well but in terms of a tangible goal like climbing a mountain, which although an achievement does not necessarily deliver benefits to all stakeholders so people get that off beam feeling.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years around delivering benefits and benefits realization plans. In the UK the OGCs MSP (Managing Successful Programmes) has really brought this approach to the fore.
It is a different perspective on pure task based delivery and it promotes the need for modification of programme objectives and sub project outputs against a benefit realisation profile. It could be that an element of the programme simply does not give enough ‘bang for the buck’ or it is simply not coherent with the rest of the programme so the element needs modifying or simply cancelling with the redeployment of its assigned resources.
Ultimately the programme stakeholders will determine the success or failure of a programme and this is something that nobody would dispute. However in addition to the evolving programme during delivery, the tangible progress, the slow reveal and management of risks and issues there is another dimension. The stakeholder community may change either in physical personnel but more likely in political agenda.
Whether the stakeholders change in name or their political objectives are modified the result is the same, the goal posts move and your programme can miss the mark, this is why stakeholder management is such a vital role for the programme manager.
Stakeholder Management is a skill in its own right, it isn’t something performed at the beginning of the programme with a nice stakeholder map graphic, nor is it something that can be accomplished with a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool. Effective Stakeholder Management means getting yourself embedded in their environment so that you can see the changes that might affect your programme before they even tell you.
It is particularly difficult with government because political short terms aims are actually very dynamic, they change with the wind, with international circumstance and public opinion and as a Programme Director you have to navigate these waters. Technically and contractually you may have delivered everything asked of you but if your stakeholders objectives have changed you will have an uphill struggle. Of course you can pull out the contract but this is unlikely to change an off beam failure into a resounding success, of course it will result in adverse publicity and perceptions about the programme and the company are extremely difficult to change.
Seven Success Steps
Here are 7 essential steps to help keep your programme on beam:
- Make sure the end state of your programme is tangible, paint a vision of what ‘done looks like’ and get your stakeholders to agree that if you could wind forward time to the final delivery then they would declare it a success.
- Maintain contact with your stakeholders both internal and external throughout delivery.
- Be open on risks and issue management with them, sometimes an issue that you might put a lot of effort in to work through isn’t even important to them. Being open also allows them to think of solutions, always remember it is their programme too.
- Immerse yourself in the same environment as your external stakeholders, experience their pressures and changing priorities, it might just help you to propose a solution that keeps the programme in the sweet spot.
- Make sure your own team is on the inside track, don’t alienate them by appearing to side too much with the customer, be open with them about any challenges and changes, remember that they are the force that moves the programme from ‘not done to done’.
- Don’t reach for the contract, once this happens there is no hope of pulling a successful programme out of the mire. You may well be in the right but after the fact nobody will ever know you were right.
- Track your benefits realisation, share it with your team and your stakeholders both internal and external, this will help you modify your programmes priorities, keep everyone pulling in the same direction and is far more meaningful to the majority of your stakeholders than the financial, progress or Earned Value reports that you must also maintain for integrity and day to day management.