The bit you probably missed in your program

Let’s face it, you’re probably frustrated with the progress of the program you are working on. How do I know this? Simply that most people get to that point. The timing varies from person to person, and organisation to organisation. It tends to happen though most of the time.

If this makes you smile knowingly then perhaps you’ll join me in a short examination as to why. Why is it that even after the decades of process development and benefits logic maps and PMOs we still get frustrated with slow progress and having to make major changes along the way.

I’m going to say something that most program directors know, but don’t often speak of outside of the quiet corners of coffee shops and pubs. Hopefully this doesn’t get me thrown out of the club!

Your program probably isn’t really a program yet.

What? We’ve assigned a program manager, given them a budget, and even have a timeframe and benefits statement in the business case! We’ve done everything to make this right!

No. I’m willing to bet that you haven’t!

You see the key part of a benefits logic map is not really the benefit. Not when it comes to delivery.

The key part is the middle step of the map that I’ve seldom seen done well, and often seen ignored. That is the capability change needed to achieve the outcomes you are looking for. In Lean Six Sigma terms, it is the current state and future state gap analysis.

Where are you now? Where do you need to be in order to get to that outcome? People, process, systems, culture, finance, customers, the whole shooting match!

If you know the gap you can now look at the things you need to do in order to bridge that gap. You can also now look at how long it will take, and what resources you will need to achieve it.

This critical step is often overlooked in the rush to meet deadline assigned to the program.

Without it, you can’t really look at options. Options? But this is a set program! A project has a set objective. A program looks at the future state you are looking to get to and examines the options you have in getting there. If you’ve ever used the phrase “biggest bang for your buck” you’ve started the thinking needed for a successful program. It is possible to get to the outcome that you want in many ways. These are prettier, cheaper, faster, more complicated, more politically palatable in various ways. If you take the time to look at these options before you rush to deliver the one you thought of first there are many ways to reduce the risk, cost, anxiety, blood sweat and tears of delivering a successful program.

A short pause before rushing to delivery to be clear on not only what you want to deliver, but also a sensible consideration of the preferred choice of delivery options, will save you significant tearing out of hair and sleepless nights later.

That’s what really makes a program begin to be a program, and quite different to a project. The balance of considered value options to get you to the benefits you want, before rushing to deliver each project output.

Hopefully I’m still on the Project and Program Services club Christmas card list!

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Nathan Jones

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