Curious About the Hidden Biases Sabotaging Your Strategy Execution?

In the first of a series of three articles, David Hilliard explores how management biases and blind spots in senior management teams are responsible for huge cost overruns in business-critical program execution. He shares his vast experience on how to prevent these slip-ups from compromising your program’s success. This is an excerpt from the Insight Guide: Battle-tested: Executing business-critical strategy with unshakeable confidence and certainty.

Here’s the thing…

90% of the 130+ programs we’ve been involved with in the last three decades faced major setbacks within a year. In every case, they needed hugely expensive “resets.

“Hugely expensive?”…we are talking about high-end 6-figure sums.

As this article explains, all of this could have been avoided.

Looking back, these complex programs had been thrashing around and not making enough progress for between 9 and 15 months before a CEO or Chairman got in touch.

The crux of each conversation was strikingly similar:

  • The company faced an urgent client crisis due to a severe program delay
  • The board (or stakeholders) had lost confidence that the company would deliver on its commitments

Other reasons for these calls included shareholder discontent, diminishing trust from pivotal customers, potential termination of major contracts, significant delays to service launches, spiralling costs, and colossal financial penalties or write-offs.

Even the best executives stumble due to hidden management biases and blind spots 

Many of these organisations were run by highly talented, successful CEOs.

So why is the success rate for these programs so low?

Over the last 30 years, we have explored management biases and blind spots in program plans with senior executives and leadership teams.

Many executives often lack the awareness or understanding of the essential fundamentals required for successful strategic program execution.

At best, our experience is these issues are downplayed. Worse, they remain hidden, leading to potential risks and oversights.

Yet, mostly these weaknesses are “baked” into every program from the start.

The Core Issue is this: management biases and blind spots cause program delays and overspends.

Find out about our CEO guide for program failure examples & program execution success.

Management biases

Bias detection has been rooted in our approach for more than three decades.

We’ve been encouraged to see that our hands-on experience lines up with the substantial research conducted by Bent Flyvbjerg, Professor and Inaugural Chair of Major Programme Management at Oxford University.

Flyvbjerg recorded in his landmark book “How to Get Big Things Done” that 91.5% of “megaprojects” came in late and over budget.

Flyvbjerg* also identified similar issues in Telecoms and IT in other industry sectors. His research describes many biases, including three pivotal examples we come across constantly:

* Flyvbjerg, Bent, 2021, “Top Ten Behavioral Biases in Project Management: An Overview, ”Project Management Journal, vol. 52, no. 6, pp. 531–546

Operational blind spots 

But it is not all down to management biases! 

Blind spots are equally damaging – we see examples of these on every client assignment. The most common blind spots include:

Is this down to CEO incompetence? Not at all.  But CEOs certainly could ask better questions.

Most execs were intelligent, successful people with exemplary track records. Some ran FTSE 250 companies. Yet, they could never have imagined being in such a difficult situation when their programs were launched. 

Managing transformational change is a significant challenge for organisations and their senior executives. The impact of managing change certainly needs to be better understood by decision-makers, but it is usually toned down or, in some cases, ignored. 

Even the most talented CEOs fail to recognise their own biases, downplaying clear warning signs and data without fully grasping their severity.

Blind spots and management biases can trip up anyone.


Shining a light on gaps and blind spots blocking successful execution

Helping someone, especially an experienced executive, recognise their biases and blind spots is tough. Biases are often deep-rooted and unconscious, making them hard to spot.

We all have them because they help us to make sense of our world.

Detecting blind spots, finding gaps, uncovering biases, and understanding their impact on a program is essential. Ignore them at your peril.

Tackling these “program killers” requires transparency, continuous learning, communication, and a willingness to receive open and honest feedback.

Above all, it takes self-awareness.


So, ask yourself some pointed questions:

  • Does everyone truly understand and support the aims of your program?
  • Are the people responsible for delivery able to voice concerns without fear of management “retaliation”?
  • Does your company have the competence to drive your business-critical program successfully?
  • Are your people getting enough resource, support, and guidance?

Taking a leaf out of Jeff Bezos’s notebook

Answering these questions candidly is not easy. Information is hard to come by, and getting a proper handle on program status from your people is fraught with difficulty.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos believes people are more interested in conforming, rather than risk having a dissenting view. He puts this difficulty down to the fact that humans are inherently “social rather than truth-seeking animals.” 

To help Amazon overcome this bias, Bezos prefers to speak last in meetings, so those junior to him do not feel they have to conform to his opinion, simply because he is the most senior person in the room.

Bezos argues that organisations should strive to create a climate where everybody’s opinions count, no matter how junior they are.

Especially, if a person’s dissenting view is based on hard data, “that view should always prevail over senior management opinion.”

Encouraging open dialogue and feedback loops, using regular assessment, can help identify and mitigate potential biases and blind spots

Regular assessment through Independent Program Reviews is critical. They help to cut through biases, blind spots and gaps to provide program insights an execution team might never even appreciate.

In our experience of “resetting” business-critical programs, we’ve gathered lots of accurate data on why programs fail. This shows the importance of doing an Independent Program Review early to tackle management biases and behaviours that can derail programs.

Whether you’re starting a new program or already running one, you want to be sure it’ll deliver the expected results. 

Maybe you’ve noticed that progress reports seem too good to be true. More likely, you may even  feel “many things are just not being said.”

CEOs often tell us they rely on a gut feeling when things don’t seem right, and it’s common for senior executives to struggle to get a clear picture from their program teams.

After all, as we’ve learnt from Jeff Bezos, no one wants to be the bearer of bad news.

Also explore why business transformations fail.


Considering the downside of execution oversights, Independent Program Reviews are not an expensive luxury

They are an essential component of the execution mix and will help you avoid pointless grief. 

Just as you wouldn’t be your own doctor or lawyer, you definitely shouldn’t be your own strategy execution guru either. Without expert guidance, it’s tough to see what you really need to know. And it’s even harder to spot where your own program team can improve its execution performance (and how to do it).

The cornerstone of the Independent Program Review is an Assurance Baseline. This not only saves time but also revolutionises the entire program by spotlighting failure prevention. It allows you to take control, boosting both your company’s and your personal reputation while providing a vital yardstick for ongoing performance evaluation.


Make decisions based on facts rather than distorted opinions

An Independent Program Review can significantly boost your execution plans without undermining your team’s confidence. It ensures your plans are grounded in facts and informed judgments, not slanted opinions.

Completed in just three weeks, these reviews typically cost around 3% of the total costs incurred during a major program reset – a mere fraction of the usual financial burden of program delays and cost overruns that can drain your business of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

And with us handling the heavy lifting, you’ll have more time to focus on driving your business forward.

By tackling problems head-on, we are extremely confident you will gain at least 10 times the value of your investment.

And considering the substantial size of most business-critical programs, your return is likely to be 100 times or more.

That’s pretty impressive, isnt it?

So, if you’re not keen on becoming part of the “delayed, overspent, and reputational damage” club, let’s talk! 

You can call me now on  +44 (0)7860 222282 or email me at


About the author

David Hilliard is Founder of Mentor, execution specialists in strategic program execution.