The benefits of knowing what you are trying to achieve….

March 30, 2012

There’s a lot of ‘noise’ associated with programme and project management; endless books, courses, methodologies, and approaches. There are processes, procedures and protocols designed to manage complexities and control variance, and there are highly qualified practitioners adept at ensuring compliance and adherence to this defined practice. There is clearly a need for this level of control and scrutiny to manage programmes of activity effectively, but somewhere in amongst this industrial strength planning and management, we often lose sight of the basics. What is it we are trying to achieve?

Recently, I was asked to programme manage one of the largest transformation programmes undertaken by a local authority in the UK. During the initial review of work to date, and an assessment of individual projects, the real size and scale of the task in hand (seeking to fundamentally reshape the Council and its ecosystem) became apparent. As we started to consider the wider implications and dependencies generated by running such a number of large projects in parallel, rather than becoming more refined, the overall programme ‘picture’ actually became less focussed. Faced with the scale of the challenge, project managers, reverted to ‘type’, and to make order from uncertainty, (logically) focussed on managing what they could control. Indeed as Programme Manager, I became focussed on the implementation and management of process and procedure, to ensure the ‘operational’ success of the Programme Office.

It was only when we had chance to consider how our revised management systems were actually working, that the penny really dropped for me. By reverting to the default position of controlling and reporting process, it became clear that these milestones and gateways had become the core objectives in themselves. Success was being considered in terms of how far a project was along its own time-line, rather than the more fundamental question “is it delivering the outcomes and objectives as originally defined?” In other words, the project and programme were being managed effectively, the benefits less so.

Realising benefits, within the scale of transformation that local government is now committed to, cannot simply equate to ‘bottom’ line cash savings – reducing demand, personalising delivery, reshaping communities, and redefining citizen relationships must now be central to the critical target outcomes. Traditional metrics within this environment become far less useful and the focus on these ‘new’ outcomes must be built into every stage of the project life-cycle, and become in itself, the key reporting metric.

To this end, our programme office worked alongside service leads and sponsors to introduce a simple mechanism that;

  • Identified target benefits
  • Linked them to the wider objectives of a transforming council, and
  • Ensured that they were proactively managed throughout, and beyond, the life of the project.

This continual process of challenge and assessment was seen as a very positive introduction; it answered the ‘exam question’, provided a sustainable solution, and was welcomed by the organisation.

The critical benefit of this approach, however; was that it actually converted intent into action. The “relentless focus on improving outcomes” became ‘tangible’ and ‘measurable’ to every level of the organisation, people knew what they were trying to achieve and could see that benefits were being realised.

The work we have done with our clients and partners is setting us apart from other advisors, and adds value far beyond the remit of a defined work package through this relentless focus on improving outcomes. Within the context of programme management, the challenge must always be: can we demonstrate outcome delivery with as much detail and confidence as we can demonstrate adherence to plan and process?

Andy Begley is a Manager at iMPOWER. To contact him to discuss this blog please e-mail or call 020 7017 8030.

30th March 2012

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