Program setup: the value of being honest

It’s a shocking stat that bears repeating: around two-thirds of transformation programs collapse. Of the final third, most are late, over budget and fail to meet their original objectives.

Depressing, isn’t it?

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Companies simply need to be straight – and pay more attention to where they’ve gone wrong before. So often problems are baked-in during the set-up stage, long before execution has even begun – but it’s not always noticeable at the time.


Where did it all go wrong?

The issue in so many instances of collapse is that teams just plough through the set-up phase, as though it’s just a routine process that must happen before the ‘real’ work can start.

But it’s anything but routine.

You have meetings where team members, through fear and pressure, are more focused on giving the impression that everything is rosy – rather than actually making sure that everything is understood and under control.

In truth, this is a sure-fire shortcut to failure – you end up with a completely unrealistic execution framework with ‘perfect’ outcomes – but no practical way of actually achieving them. And the problems eventually show, but only when it’s too late.

It’s at this ‘too late’ stage that Mentor tends to be involved, but why let it deteriorate to that extent?


Honesty is the best policy

It’s been said a million times but the old adage really is true when it comes to programs – especially when the program in question is business-critical.

All too often program managers are acutely aware of huge risks around their programs, but choose to obscure them with what can only be described as fairy stories. Over time, these whoppers become even more distant from the truth, until you’re left with no choice but to admit defeat.

All it needed was the courage to be honest from the beginning.

We all want our programs to have incredible, game-changing results, but wishful thinking alone won’t get you there. You need to be realistic about what can be achieved.

This involves asking – and honestly answering – questions like ‘How big is the execution team?’, ‘How much time do we have?’, ‘Does the team have the skills to get the job done effectively?’

Answering ‘yes, it’ll be fine’ – without thinking about any or all of these questions – and you’re setting your program up for a shambles.


Size does matter

The biggest question you should be asking yourself in all of this is ‘how big is the program – how complex is it?’. An honest answer here goes a long way to ensuring everything goes smoothly. If it’s too big to pull off with the team you have, scale things down or get extra help instead of just going ahead anyway.

You may even find yourself thinking more people are needed to achieve the change you want, in which case there’s no harm in scaling up – providing your team is capable and confident.

There are exceptions of course, but a program’s size will influence its cost, so by being open from the start you give yourself the best chance of budgeting accurately. There are then no surprises further down the line; no awkward meetings when it’s discovered you’ve exhausted the earmarked resources.


Confidence breeds success

This statement is true – but only when that confidence is authentic. The program director needs to be confident not only in their own work and abilities, but also in the whole team. An ‘every person for themselves’ approach is useless.

This is why transparency is so crucial, and why you have to have it from the start. The objectives should be made clear to everyone, along with individual roles and responsibilities. If everything is to be delivered as expected, there can’t be any blurred lines.

Equally important is the concept of ‘legitimate dissent’  where everyone knows they can raise concerns. A false ‘can-do’ environment where pessimism is frowned on is hazardous; it stops people being brutally honest about what they can achieve.