The Program that goes Wrong

Program management could learn from my night of farce

I went to the theatre the other evening to see “The Play that goes Wrong”.

Extremely funny and highly recommended.

Everything and anything that could go wrong…went wrong. Hilarious. I ached from laughter when I came out of the theatre.

The play, of course, was scripted to go wrong.

But that’s different from running business-critical programs where there’s a “script” to get things right…correct?

If only…


Writing a program script to fail, starring StarFibre

On too many occasions, companies can unintentionally write a script to fail.

In fairness, they don’t mean to. But the end result often ends in ‘farce.’

It might as well have been scripted that way.

Let me give you a real-life example. An old client called StarFibre.

They won a contract to provide communications infrastructure for a major government enterprise.

They approached us because their program “was in pain” and we were asked to conduct ‘surgery’ to fix it.

The target completion date was already ‘a lost cause’.

We carried out a health check on the programs’ key metrics and made a startling diagnosis.

It wasn’t looking good – not by a long shot.

I wished they’d have come to talk to us before they kicked off this program.


Program Review – a list of failures

The commitment of the teams within the program was commendable – there was no shortage of energy, enthusiasm and good planning logic.

But there were serious problems to be fixed – and fast. Here’s a flavour of some of the lowlights:

  • Unrealistic target dates, based on uninformed optimism, massive task parallelism and rose-coloured opinions.
  • The plan stood zero chance of being met.
  • Worse, the latest version of the plan assumed unconstrained availability of labour and plant – and there would be no further problems with laying fibre. Even the bravest would have said this was unlikely.
  • Planning between the various regions, disciplines and programs were uncoordinated and piecemeal.
  • No one could really understand what was happening – progress reports were not readily available or standardised across teams.
  • Risk assessments across rights of way, terrain, strata and weather were over-optimistic. And almost no contingency was built into completion forecasts.


Management in denial

But the biggest issue was that senior management was in complete denial. Bunking off on a grand scale.

Those at the sharp end’ knew about the problems and the implications for target completion dates. But they did their best.

Individual plan components for all aspects of the program were logical and with reasonable forecast delivery dates. And these were communicated up the line.

But senior management chose to close their eyes and stick to the original targets – which were absurdly optimistic.

Even after we pointed out the problems, they insisted we help ‘fix things’ to get them back on track, as if we were magicians, rather than experts in program execution.

And if you think this doesn’t happen elsewhere, why is it that the senior management at Crossrail forecast their program was on target for its original delivery date – only three months before they announced it was running at least a year late?

How could that happen?  Had no-one told senior management the original date was in jeopardy?

Of course, they did – but that management team was in complete denial too!

The writers of ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’ couldn’t have scripted it better.


5G will make StarFibre’s experience seem like Sleeping Beauty

Make no mistake – 5G will be a brute of a program to manage.

It will challenge operators to achieve levels of operational excellence never achieved before.

So how can you write a ‘script’ to succeed and get 5G programs delivered on time and on budget?

You could do it yourselves.

That’s what StarFibre did. They saw calling for external help as a sign of management weakness – rather than a better way of fortifying success.

On the contrary, it’s a management strength to recognise you need help.

But they chose to go into denial instead. Too little, too late. And that’s why they couldn’t deliver.

Or you can call in the experts.

Mentor has been successfully implementing large-scale telco projects for over 30 years. We’ve never failed.

We’ve learnt the hard way. Which means you don’t have to. We call it The Mentor Way.

Don’t let your program turn into a farce. Talk to us now so we can work with you from the outset to nail down a script for success.