Success can be measured in many ways, but how you achieve it is just as important.
Working together consistently produces better results than working alone or in silos. Engendering a collaborative working environment is not always easy, but is well worth the effort.
Setting realistic, measurable benefit expectations at the start of a project or programme of work and then ensuring you plan to deliver the capability to measure those benefits is key. Equally important is to include benefit checkpoints throughout the project lifecycle as the design and plans evolve which they inevitably do.
MANAGED BUSINESS CHANGE
Most programmes and individual projects have an impact on the operational, functional or support areas of a business. As a consequence it is critical to take those business areas with you on the journey as the project develops. Some areas will be impacted more than others, but all are important. Projects will likely fail if the business feels that the changes necessitated are a fait-a-compli. Business buy in with senior stakeholder sponsorship can help to alleviate the impact of change. Dedicated resource and activities within the plan will help to mitigate the risk of a sub optimal solution.
The project and programme management cliché of delivering on time, on budget and to quality is one that is rarely challenged. Whilst marginally controversial delivering a programme on time does not necessarily mean that the date expectations set at programme outset were achieved or beaten, but should mean that whatever changes are agreed throughout the lifecycle have been approved by the appropriate level of governance agreed for the programme. If the Board agrees that change is necessary and accept the change in schedule then this should not be viewed as a failure of the programme, but more that there is an acceptance of the need for change with the rationale that supports it. The key message with a project or programme schedule is that change should not be undertaken without considering the time aspects as one of the criteria being assessed alongside the many others.
Establishing the Critical Success Factors (CSFs) of the programme and agreeing the priority of those with your key stakeholders and ensuring that any changes in design, solution or timing demonstrate that these CSFs will continue to be met and that your stakeholders are happy to adopt the changes proposed will help to ensure that you have delivered what the client desires and to avoid incorrect assumptions being made.
LEARNING FROM THE EXPERIENCE
I wonder how many people reading this will feel that sometimes Lessons Learned activities have been undertaken only for the results to have been documented and left in a system library only to never see the light of day again. Lessons learned should be viewed as a continuous improvement activity throughout the project lifecycle and not just an admin exercise at the end. We can always improve and do things better so why not allocate time and effort to find out. Creating an environment of positive challenge has benefits for the people working within the programme and helps them to continue to be enthusiastic throughout….even through the difficult times.
As with delivering a project “on time”, delivering a project “on budget” is also considered to be a key success factor. There have been a number of occasions where inadequate attention has been paid to understanding and agreeing a programme or project budget up front and to agreeing the method of governing any change to that budget. It is inevitable that, as a project progresses, more information comes to light that changes may be necessary with the budget. How many times have we heard the phrase “I included some contingency within my budget only for the Director to strip that out and make me manage to the figure excluding contingency”? In my experience, the key is to agree a method of continually assessing the budget performance, demonstrate how to align that to time and benefits and then agree the governance for change when required (not if required). Remembering of course that the cost may sometimes come down and that sometimes difficult strategic management decisions may need to be taken.
A key element regularly missed from programmes and projects, particularly those that are smaller is to ensure that the work being undertaken is aligned to the overall strategic goals of the business. One should not be afraid to challenge whether a proposed project actually helps to support those goals. All reputable organisations have a clear mission and a clear strategic plan over the next 5 to 10 years and any work undertaken should be able to demonstrate that it supports those goals.
IMPROVING THE CULTURE
Change within a business is inevitable as the environment evolves and demands for improvement increase. Therefore it is essential that change is managed in a way that is considered positive and engaging and should not be viewed as a chore or a thorn in the side of Business As Usual operational activity. The two need to coexist in a harmonious way with the resources of the organisation recognising that their operational world will change. The important aspect of this is demonstrating to those stakeholders that the change is for the better. The cultural impact should be drafted early and continually assessed so that the team involved in the project and those for whom the impact is felt operationally recognise and understand the reasons for change.
One of the most difficult of the three project management mantras to measure is that of “Quality”. The only way to make this an effective measure is to agree them up front and accept that they may vary over time. A Quality Plan that includes the expectations of the key stakeholders will help the overall programme and its team members to keep their eye on what is important to the business. Delivering a solution that is exactly what was envisaged at programme start up is not a measure of quality, but delivering a solution that is aligned to the overall strategic goals probably is. Understanding and agreeing the key scope criteria and understanding the importance of the impact on the business are also key quality measures. Agreeing them up front can be challenging, but the time is worthwhile spent as they can be assessed throughout the lifecycle.
I had the privilege of working with Jeff Street for three and a half years at Aon. Jeff is, without doubt, one of the most professional and competent programme managers I have ever worked with.
Jeff is a star! Having worked with Jeff at both Norwich Union and Aon I continue to be impressed with his expertise, eye for detail and dedication. I would have no hesitation in recommending Jeff for any Programme Management role.
…As a professional, you will not be able to find a more loyal, hardworking and enthusiastic individual who can turn his hands to just about anything… …As a person, a complete fruitloop, way too much energy, opinionated, fun loving… the challenge is keeping up with him.
Jeff is an outstanding programme manager whose commitment and hard work alone is enough to motivate and drive anyone who works with him. Jeff never shies away from any challenge and I would relish the opportunity to work with him again.