Program Failures – a “tongue-in-cheek” guide for CEOs

We have seen many examples of how NOT to setup and run a program.

Many of these examples are so egregious that they fall into the “you couldn’t make it up” category.

So, we have pulled together 12 light-hearted rules to draw attention to the most common problems – in the hope that senior people might see the impact of  ‘not very thoughtful actions’ on their own people and, ultimately, on their own business results.

Twelve hard-hitting actions that CEO’s must take to guarantee a truly unexceptional program performance:


1. Always take on customer delivery commitments without consulting the people who have to deliver the work.

No sense in depressing yourself. Your people are risk averse and mostly tell you what can’t be done – even when you know it can.


2. Make sure programs are defined as vaguely as possible. High level, fuzzy goals are the safest.

This guarantees maximum flexibility and presents fabulous options to accommodate changes you want later on.


3. Ignore other programs that are going on in the business at the same time.

People worry these may interfere with a new transformation program – but they seldom do. Most businesses find ways of muddling through and fitting everything in, don’t they?


4. Choose someone to lead a program who has never run one before.

They bring in fresh ideas and are not too influenced by screw-ups they have made previously. It helps if they are pompous types that don’t take advice well. As a much riskier option, choose someone who actually has experience – but who has never run a similar type of program before.


5. Give program managers lots of responsibility but as little authority as possible.

It really upsets other functional managers in your team. They worry about losing power. Let’s be blunt, no program is ever worth destabilising the functional structure that people have rightly grown comfortable with over the years.


6. Keep communication to a minimum – as too much of it causes lots of needless worry.

Keep it on a “need to know” basis. Your people don’t need to understand what anyone else is doing – their job is to follow instructions, not to think.


7. Don’t waste time planning.

However complex, most programs can be sketched out on a few slides in 30 minutes, or less. It’s crucial to act urgently and get on with the work. A few charts showing how more features can be delivered, faster and cheaper are guaranteed crowd pleasers. Microsoft Project is amazingly good at this. Remain strong – and trust that everything will fall into place as the program moves along. You’ve always been lucky – why would that change?

Explore program delivery – taking the effective approach.

8. Keep everyone happy and make a list of risks that may happen on a program.

People love risk meetings – the bigger the risk, the better. Afterwards, put the list in an envelope in your desk, lock it and forget about them. Don’t fret or spend time working out elaborate schemes for mitigating risks – they rarely happen. Others do – but not those.


9. Always place limits on the number of people you put on a program – even if a plan calls for lots of resource.

It really interferes with business-as-usual. Program Managers always ask for more people than can be comfortably be made available. Not many people know this, but the resources they want are still working on the last “delayed” program – which bizarrely was annoyingly more difficult than anyone imagined.

Find out 7 steps to successfully manage your program portfolio.

10. Program Managers revel in priorities. If they ask you to prioritise activities, refuse to do it.

This is just a convenient way for them act pathetically – to whinge and to do less work when the going gets tough.


11. Spending time comparing program progress with estimates is counterproductive.

Don’t let program managers spend time on reporting. Program reports use time that could better be used on the program. Even if a program is in trouble, why would you want to stop and find out how much trouble you are in? Just make the team keep going. Trust that your lucky streak will continue; things will come right in the end.

Explore strategic program success.

12. Finally, allow lots of changes to the program scope.

After all, you have a business to run. Program managers who want to limit changes to the scope during critical periods are just plain lazy. It’s a cosy thought – but they have to be realistic. Remind them constantly that it’s a war zone out there – and we live in the real world. Don’t we?


For people with insight, based on hard won experience, we know you’ll resonate with these “rules.” You may have a fund of similar stories – in which case, we would love to hear about them.

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