Archive for December, 2010

PostHeaderIcon Program Management Essentials

The world is (slowly) moving toward a shared understanding of the term “program”. There are still widely varying interpretations of project vs program but the most common themes are that programs typically drive significant strategic change, involve the integration and coordination of multiple component projects (and sometimes non-project work too), and focus on outcomes rather than outputs.

Alignment and Integration

Where all these criteria are fulfilled, major problems arise when the program is treated simply as a large project, meaning that planning and oversight is overly tactical to the detriment of the more strategic activity necessary for program success (see Big Programs, Basic Flaws).

Seven Key Elements

Ensuring the program delivers what was intended requires special emphasis given to areas such as strategic alignment, stakeholder management, scope and schedule integration, and benefits planning.

The following major elements of program management help provide appropriate focus:

1 – Business Case

Programs should have a well-articulated justification for the investment, that centers on the estimated costs of implementation and ongoing operations against the anticipated benefits to be gained and offset by the associated risks.  The business case lays out the strategic context of the program and shapes its overall mission and vision. Once approved, the business case provides a point of reference throughout the program (updated as necessary) in order to ensure a continued business rationale for the initiative.

2 – Program Organization

This should comprise a single program manager with unambiguous reporting lines to an executive steering committee (program board) that adequately reflects major stakeholder interests, budgetary control and resourcing. Other advisory committees may be set up to review and guide specific aspects of the program but the board always has ultimate decision-making authority. The program manager should have ready access to an individual program sponsor to resolve issues and obtain guidance not requiring involvement of the other board members.

3 – Stakeholder Alignment

The sheer scale of a program will usually infer involvement of many parties with vested interests. Stakeholder analysis will help to identify individual concerns and parties needing the greatest attention, and subsequently define appropriate response strategies. It also assists in identifying risks associated with (real or perceived) negative outcomes. Properly managing relationships with key stakeholders requires detailed communication plans and, (sometimes forgotten), ensuring adequate time and effort is expended in acting on those plans.

4 – Benefits Realization Plan

Since programs focus on outcomes (vs. projects which focus on outputs), a core element of program setup is the development of a plan that (a) assigns metrics to identified benefits, (b) forecasts when and how those benefits will be realized and (c) maps program deliverables to the benefits which are in turn linked to program objectives. This helps ensure that assumptions in how each benefit will be realized are validated and that all required deliverables are clearly identified.

5 – Program Architecture

The program architecture identifies component projects and the major interfaces between them. A vital aspect of developing the architecture is scope integration, whereby the boundaries of each component are validated to ensure that program objectives can be fulfilled without gaps or overlapping effort among the constituent projects. A high-level program roadmap is an important tool in depicting anticipated sequencing of the projects, target dates for key interfaces, review/approval gates and other milestones, and successive stages of funding.

6 – Integrated Master Schedule

An effective integrated master schedule (IMS) consolidates all component project schedules and links them at the task level with specific, clearly defined interfaces with explicit completion criteria. Depending on the schedule criticality, the use of simulation tools and optimization techniques are often essential tools to properly manage schedule risk and greatly increase credibility of the plan and confidence.  The IMS re-validates the program roadmap and benefits plan and together with an interface tracking log will therefore provide the basis for much of the program manager’s performance monitoring focus during program execution.

7 – Tiered Governance

While project managers within the program will typically track progress against schedule, cost and technical performance, the program manager needs to ensure not only proper roll-up of this data (possibly via a program office) to control overall program progress but also to implement tracking of benefit metrics, as per the benefits realization plan. A well-designed program dashboard reflects both types of metric to provide the board with a holistic view of both the strategic and tactical performance aspects of the program.

PostHeaderIcon Big Programs, Basic Flaws

Flaws cause failures

Conducting and reading through assessments of  various programs highlights how complexity in large scale initiatives can distract and divert focus from doing the basics. Several factors can contribute to this but the end result is the same- an out-of-control program with impacts exacerbated by its sheer size.

For example, recent audits of half a billion dollars worth of government programs in the state of Queensland (AUS) highlight a multitude of major issues resulting in spiraling costs, runaway schedules, unrealized benefits and irate stakeholders.

Its a sobering read; particularly striking, given the nature of the initiatives, is the apparent failure to attend to program management fundamentals. Here are a few summarized findings from the various programs assessed:

No Business Case

An approved business case that clearly identified the benefits to be realised could not be identified. There was no periodic review of the business needs.

Lack of Proper Governance

A program board with adequate stakeholder representation, that had the authority to drive the program forward and to deliver the outcomes and benefits, was not in place since the program began.

No Benefits Management Plan

There was no benefits management plan to consolidate benefits measures for all stakeholders impacted by the program. There was no method of identifying, recording, tracking and reporting demonstrable benefits for the program.

Lack of Integration

From a program perspective, it appeared to be a series of separate projects rather than a coordinated program.

Inadequate Program Metrics

Many of the controls within all three programs were typical of a project management scheme to manage schedules, capabilities and costs. The baselines, recording, monitoring and reporting of benefits did not form part of program documentation.

Program Management Fundamentals

While these findings relate to a few specific programs, they are symptomatic of common issues in program management, namely, that program planning and oversight is often at too tactical a level. Successful program management is founded on the themes of:

  • Strategic Alignment
    Ensuring a clear and ongoing linkage of program objectives and scope with the organization’s strategic objectives
  • Stakeholder Management
    Aligning the expectations and interests of all key stakeholders to promote their ongoing support and ensure success criteria are unanimously understood
  • Program Governance
    Developing an integrated program master-plan that links all component projects both tactically (tasks) and strategically (business goals), implemented within the framework of an unambiguous program organization structure
  • Benefits Management
    Defining anticipated benefits early and mapping them explicitly to program scope and objectives, and subsequently forecasting and tracking their realization.  

Ignoring these core considerations is to disregard the fundamentals of good program management.

PostHeaderIcon Making Team Meetings Productive

Avoid a Disappointing Outcome

Much time can go to waste in project review meetings. Mostly this is due to: (a) poor agendas, (b) poor control and (c) poor preparation. The project manager has responsibility for each of these and should recognize each meeting as an opportunity to improve project performance, enhance personal credibility and motivate the team – all as timely and efficiently as possible.

A fine balancing act is typically needed in maintaining meeting focus on project status while ensuring an appropriate environment to re-align the team and foster a positive outlook. Here are some guidelines to keep meetings productive, on-point and on-track.

Agenda

Set a clear agenda and stick to it-
e.g. Review the:

  • Schedule
  • Changes
  • Issues
  • Risks

Preparation

Ready the data before the meeting-

  • Don’t waste valuable meeting time getting status updates from team members. Collect this information one day beforehand to allow time for updating the schedule, analyzing variances and identifying specific items needing team review, all in advance of the meeting. Provide team members with any pre-reading that could reduce meeting duration.

Attendance

Make attendance mandatory-

  • Allowing members to skip meetings without a really good reason will hamper decision-making, dilute communication and weaken the team. Ask the Sponsor to send out a message reinforcing expectations on attendance – and let him/her know how well they’re being met.

Focus

Keep meetings relevant and concise-

  • Keep control of discussions, stick to the agenda, ensure cell-phones stay off and stop any side-conversations promptly. Actively solicit inputs from the team on their perspectives of likelihood of success – and probe any concerns thoroughly. Secure clear commitments on actions and due dates.

Approach

Rigid or relaxed to suit the culture–

  • It’s a subtle thing but get it wrong and your perceived credibility as an effective leader will be impacted…as will the team’s motivation and commitment. Some cultures respond better to informal meetings, lots of humor and a relaxed environment than others. Know your team members and your organization’s culture.

Virtual Teams

Additional considerations-

  • If the team includes foreigners, speak slowly and avoid using idioms. (Obvious perhaps, but rampantly ignored). If time zone differences are severe, consider rotating weekly meeting times to spread the pain of early morning or late night calls. Consider asking virtual participants to connect into the meeting individually and separately to avoid the risk of co-located groups getting into their own side-conversations while ‘on mute’.

Gratitude

Give thanks-

  • Be sure to take time to express appreciation for any and all noteworthy efforts honestly, openly and consistently. Whether for the efforts of a single individual or a group, conveying words of thanks and using simple positive reinforcement rewards are powerful motivators.