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Programme Management SIG Annual Conference

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Post Conference Report: A reflective account prepared by Jim Dale and Merv Wyeth with special thanks to our colleagues from ProgM’s Management Committee.
Firstly, it would be amiss not to pay tribute to James Lessingham who inspired, directed and led the delivery of an outstanding conference, at a truly iconic venue.

Over 100 delegates assembled at the venue, now Bristol’s no.1 tourist spot and home to the largest, fastest and most sophisticated ship of her day.

Top left: The SS Great Britain - Top right: The propeller of the SS Great Britain

The SS Great Britain was the first iron-hulled ship to be propeller driven. The propeller, which was crafted from hand drawings, was of such precision that it achieves a 95% efficiency rating using the very latest 21st century computer aided simulation modelling. The designer was, of course, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (IKB), the world’s greatest engineer and truly a great Briton.

Above: The Museum Curator providing an overview of the SS Great Britain

One of the aims of the conference was to maximise audience participation and engagement. To achieve this, extensive use was made of interactive presentational software enabling the delegates to vote or offer comments, using their laptops, tablets and smart phones. More will be said about the use of MentiMeter later.

Above: A delegate using the ‘Catchbox’:  A spongy throwable microphone.This was the source of some amusement on the day

One of our many favourite ‘phrases of the day’ was written by Marion Blakely who said:

“You can’t leave a footprint that lasts by walking on tiptoes”.

IKB clearly was an advocate of this philosophy. His designs were bold, brash, innovative and ground breaking. He was a visionary, a risk taker, driven, committed and confident. Yet what many people may not know, is that IKB was a thoughtful reflective practitioner, constantly seeking to learn and develop new improved ways of working. This is evident from the meticulous diaries that he kept.

So here is the point. We know that if we fail to learn from our own or the mistakes of others we are doomed to repeat them. Our challenge to you, the project management community, is not to passively read or listen to speakers at conference, but to challenge your own thought processes and, as a result, do something differently.

Above: We established that 86% of our audience were in PPM job roles; including portfolio management and leadership and senior management positions.

This was an experienced audience

The programme ‘knowledge’ and ‘knowing – doing’ gaps were reoccurring themes during the conference. So, let’s now demystify the science of programme management. Programmes should deliver organisational change that result in benefits. Ideally the benefits should be measurable. Most practitioners instinctively know how effective organisational change should be delivered but somehow manage to get it wrong time and time again. To reinforce the point, the audience were asked to reflect on a recent organisational change initiative of which they had experience. The following wordle was produced instantaneously.

Above: A snapshot of delegate responses using MentiMeter.  The larger the print the greater number of citations

What is interesting is the disproportionate balance between negative reactions such as ‘confused’, ‘disappointed’, ‘frustrated’, ‘disengaged’ versus more positives ones such as ‘excited’ and ‘opportunity’.

Turning the spotlight to the ‘knowledge gap’, it was later established that 56% of delegate participants were unaware of the existence of the excellent Project Delivery Capability Framework produced freely available by the Cabinet Office’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority. Surely, as competent project practitioners it is incumbent upon us all to keep abreast of developments that impact on our profession and embrace good practice from wherever it originates?

The story continued from bad to worse. Despite all the excellent work undertaken to promote benefits management, a component element of programme management, many organisations are failing to identify, measure, track and realise the benefits desired when commissioning projects. And to cap it all, not a single hand was raised when Merv asked the audience who was aware of the Framework to Review Programmes , the product of seven years learning and 100 reports by the National Audit Office (NAO)!

Above:  Chart depicting the current state of benefits management within organisations

So, what do we make of this? Despite all the literature, theories, practitioner manuals and ‘drum banging’ directed towards the very important topic of programme delivery, the harsh reality is that many organisations are not very good at it and appear to be making the same mistakes again and again. Whether this is the product of ignorance, management hubris or incompetence, is debatable.

Trust, genuine two-way communication, following acknowledged good practice were all promoted as the right things to do. But until behaviour in organisations truly changes it looks as if we are going to remain inflicted by the corrosive and harmful impact of the ‘knowledge’ and ‘knowing-doing’ gaps.

Our message from the conference is that ‘talking the talk’ will no longer suffice. Organisations must raise their game and do so now. Otherwise, in 10, 20, 50 or even 100 years from now, others will be reporting the same outcomes and saying the same things.

Could you follow IKB’s example of embracing reflective practice? Try using Rolfe’s simple but powerful ‘what’ ‘so what’ ‘what next’ reflective model.

True learning only occurs when we change our behavior because of what we have learned. 

Slides from the day can be viewed on SlideShare by following the links below:


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