Posts Tagged ‘Complexity’

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 Project or Program?

Is my project actually a program? Its a question sometimes asked by project managers unsure of whether their project has the right management approach. Oftentimes it is the lack of a clear distinction between the terms “project” and “program” that causes confusion. While “program” is usually associated with an initiative of larger scale, size alone is an inadequate differentiator – there are plenty of large projects that do not necessarily require program management practices.

The Project-Program Continuum

In reality we cannot easily draw a line between the two since the project-program transition occurs on a continuum, not a discrete point of separation.  Also, this continuum really comprises a number of parameters beyond natural considerations of size and cost – the graphic below may help to clarify:

Mapping an initiative against each of these factors may provide some guidance as to how it should be managed.  The more scores to the right side, the more likely that program planning, control and oversight methods would be appropriate.

Ultimately, a key question to ask is: “Can we obtain better control and better outcomes by managing as a program?”