Hyenas in the long grass, is your organisation programme friendly?

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Programme success depends on what goes on both within a programme and its environment. Programme management has evolved to deal with this, but can only go so far. The organisation(s) involved should help to create an environment for success, instead of hindering.

From the earliest days of programme management (1990s), we knew that programmes do not sit well in organisations. They tend to act across operational vertical silos.

Programme management evolved for managing multiple related projects within an environment. Techniques like stakeholder management are there precisely for this purpose 1. There are even clear roles for those who are both in the programme and its environment, such as Senior Responsible Owners and Business Change Managers.

But has this led to is complacency in the environment, especially among the leadership?

It is true that good PM professionals will manage their environment as far as they can, e.g. assuming authority, leading, persuading etc. But executives dangerously assume the programme manager can do it all. Whereas there are limits to programme management, as levels of programme “failure” indicate. And how often:

  • is the sponsorship role delegated to those without the authority to carry it out?
  • is initial energy from the executive dissipated, as the next operational exigency appears?
  • are opposers to change allowed to get away with covert or even overt disruption?

But should the executive level, the “C” level, be concerned? Well yes for (at least) three reasons:

  • For the good of the organization – no wry grins please
  • For the good of shareholders/stakeholders, whoever they may be
  • Perhaps most importantly, for themselves, as the failure of major change may; [a] damage those who champion it and, [b] fail those who need the change

What can be done?

One area is portfolio management, another is change management. Both of these operate in the programme environment. There is much published good practice for portfolio management, and many books on change management, not least those of Kotter 2 and Abrahamson 3. What the latter pick up on especially is the importance of the people aspects of change, especially how people behave and why.

In the UK the Fire Control “project” was cancelled in 2010. Many of the key findings of the National Audit Office report into it relate to human failings in the programme’s environment. It was not that the processes were lacking. Rather their execution, e.g  contract management, by people was poor.

This is not a blame exercise, the learnings are that:

  1. it is unreasonable to expect executives whose careers have been in Business As Usual, to suddenly develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours to manage major change.
  2. It is unreasonable to expect an organization to magically develop a change culture. This has to be deliberately grown. And this can only be done from the top.

APM is I know seeking to increase its executive level contacts. A key challenge is reaching their hearts, as well as their minds, so that they fully engage with change. That they equip themselves not just with knowledge of how to define and deliver change, but especially how to create and sustain a change culture, the hardest thing of all.

1 Gower Handbook of Programme Management, Reiss, Anthony, Chapman, Leigh, Rayner and Pyne, 2006
2 The Heart of Change, Kotter and Cohen, 2002, Harvard Business School Press
3 Change Without Pain, Abrahamson, 2004, Harvard Business School Press


Posted by Adrian Pyne on 23rd Jan 2014

About the Author
Adrian is a consultant who’s practice for more than 20 years was the delivery or rescue of Change programmes and the design, build, operation of portfolio, programme and project management capability. Starting in telecoms he has worked in commercial and public sectors: e.g. investment/retail finance, central & local government, diversity, nano & energy technologies and mining. Adrian is a visiting lecturer at Nottingham & Kingston University Business Schools. He has always specialised in and championed the people aspects of our profession, notably stakeholder management and behaviour. In recent years much of his practice has focussed on developing cultures and organisations in which programmes and projects can thrive and not merely survive. Adrian has been a long time contributor to the APM, especially within ProgM, e.g. the BoK 6 refresh. He is a frequent speaker, in the UK and internationally, and is co-author of the Gower Handbook of Programme Management. Adrian is RPP certified and an RPP Assessor.

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