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

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
 

3 comments

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  1. Atif Atif khan
    Atif Atif khan 11 August 2014, 09:31 AM

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  2. Adrian Pyne
    Adrian Pyne 27 January 2014, 09:38 PM

    Thanks Merv, a thoughtful response.There is an old PM saying that goes: How does a project become a year late? One day at a time.Perhaps there is a new one which is the subject of this comment.NAO reports into failed change programmes fill a library. I sadly get the impression that these are islands of......outrage? Many of the same conclusions. And we all know that such conclusions also apply to programmes in many diverse commercial sectors.So the body of evidence of wasted investment, of lost value, is huge, even if not co-ordinated. A person might think that would grab the attention of executives. And yet.......So changing the organisational culture to one more friendly to programmes is....challenging.E.g. There is much training for executives in developing a strategy, but little in how to effect change to deliver a strategy, i.e. programme management. Directors do not need to be expert programme managers, but a little understanding would be a start on the road to them being able to help programmes succeed. 

  3. Merv Wyeth
    Merv Wyeth 27 January 2014, 04:35 PM

    Hi Adrian,As you know from our discussion, I do believe you have chosen a really interesting title for your blog piece "Hyenas in the long grass, is your organisation programme friendly?" I will confess however, that I am not entirely clear on what the hyena's represent within the metaphor, and have assumed that they are the hostile element within a given organisation to a hypothetical programme(s), and presumably, as hyenas, they prey on vulnerable and weak programmes.Characteristically, hyenas hunt in well-cordinated teams. On the African plains they make the majority of all kills and the lions use their bigger size to bully their way on to the carcass. If hyenas happen to come upon a herd of wildebeest, for example, they will test the herd by chasing them before slowing to watch the fleeing animals closely, as if trying to detect any weakness among individuals. In the end they home in on one particular straggler and chase it doggedly - until the animal is goaded into turning and facing its persecutors. And then it's game over as the beest is soon crippled and disembowled. Ah - perhaps I do understand after all!However, I really do think that besides the actions and behaviours of the 'C' level there is a great deal to be said for significant amounts of user engagement at all stages in the programme life-cycle. Having established at the out-set, that there is a clearly identified need for the programme, with a clearly defined and logical benefits chain, then it is time to begin. However, as you say, projects and programmes are best performed in the context of a portfolio and this is where it is right and proper that (natural) selection should take place.MSP is clear, that where the programme business case is no longer viable, the programme should be culled - and the sooner this takes place, the better! At your suggestion I was interested to read the Executive Summary from the National Audit Office (NAO) report on the 'The failure of the FiReControl Project' Amayas Morse (2011) Head of the NAO said "This is yet another example of a Government IT project taking on a life of its own, absorbing ever-increasing resources without reaching its objectives"The 'Department,' which in this case happens to be the 'Department for Communities and Local Government' is recommended to ensure that it:- Treats IT projects as business change projects- Develops appropriate IT and project management capacity in-house and thereby reduces over-reliance on consultancy- Understands and resolves cultural as well as technical obstacles- Ensures end users are fully part of the programme team from the outset- Ensures that the business case and approval process apply an appropriate level of optimism bias adjustment and challengeHowever, as we know similar findings and recommendations continue to be regularly applied to Government Department programmes year on year. Richard Bacon, MP, paints a disturbing picture in his recent book 'Conundrum: Why every government gets things wrong - and what we can do about it.' He provides forensic analysis and insight as he cites a litany of failed policy-driven public programmes. Programmes that sprang into life, often with undue haste, but then limped along, sometimes for many years, haemorraging public money along the way until at last the hyenas moved in - hurrah!Whether or not the National Audit Office, nor the Public Accounts Committee represent  'hyenas' in this context is a matter of conjecture. We suspect that they seem pretty fierce for those that are under attack. However, what is clear is that where significant amounts of public money is involved, programmes need strong leadership, governance and scrutiny to ensure that they remain on track. And if not, they should be killed off! Like Adrian, I do believe that if APM is going to deliver on the vision of the Strategy 2020 - it must ensure that lessons are learned and success is 'baked-in' to programmes at all levels.Merv Wyeth