Signs of trouble trickle out slowly. Maybe a critical milestone has failed to come about, or a key supplier has objected to extra work. But the real clincher is when the CEO gets a feeling that the story just doesn’t hang together. These fears are never unfounded; the state of the program is always materially worse than anyone had imagined.
Frequently, the link between strategy and execution is missing. Lots of prominence is given to strategy – but not nearly enough to execution. Execution is usually an afterthought; boring, back-room, dirty work. Countless strategies are designed without taking into account the organisation’s ability to execute them.
Programs fall into two classes – regular and complex – with very little in between. Most organisations have got to grips with the regular, incremental program types, but still manage to make a mess of complex, business – critical ones due to their unique characteristics. As the future of the business typically depends on their success, these failures can be lethal.
Companies often naively assume that their functional structure is capable of running business-critical programs. But these structures are usually creaking at the seams; they’re for repetition and predictability. Complex business-critical programs are anything but routine. What’s needed is a separate organisation, led by a war general and not a war correspondent.
Business-critical programs are seldom run by a program director reporting directly to the CEO. Normally they are run by the ‘Most Affected Director’ – the director most involved in managing the change. This is an odd appointment as this individual typically lacks the time, inclination and competence to run business-critical programs.
Few companies acknowledge that they haven’t got the skills to run business-critical programs. Mostly, they say they need a PMO, without understanding what a PMO is. They’ll also point to project managers with Prince2 qualifications. But qualifications in project management don’t mean you can run businesses or execute business-critical programs.
Business-critical programs require lots of resource. Strategy execution is treated as the “junior partner” to strategy and is deeply affected by the way companies allocate resources. Typically, a small core team works with part-time resource contracted in from other parts of the organisation.
The denial phase typically begins once the CEO becomes concerned about the programs progress, and asks for a review to identify any problems. However, instead of facing up to the hard facts of reality, the outcome pretty much always ends up being that the situation is “tight, but achievable’.
The CEO is forced to face facts and a health check gets underway to establish the real state of the program. Typically, it pinpoints a sizeable mismatch between the CEO’s expectations and the actual position. But a health check is not a cure – it scales the problem, highlights areas for change and proposes new answers.
Once the health check is presented to top management, there’s a remarkable change. The CEO prioritises the program with additional full-time resources, appoints a qualified Program Director – and personally undertakes to run the program review board. This may seem like common sense, but in program delivery, common sense is not that common.
It can be wrong to blame individuals for program collapse; failures in execution are mostly to do with how top management sets out its stall to manage execution. Organisational structures and cultures have a huge impact on how individuals are able to operate. Even ‘superstar’ Program Directors are ‘rejected’ by inflexible functional structures and cultures.
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Practical advice based on over 25 years experience. Ignore at your peril!
We are ‘hands-on’ specialists in strategy execution – with over 25 years of frontline experience in IT, telecoms, media, and service industries. Outside help isn’t a cure-all, but it does provide an independent view to the “collusion of optimists” – and either helps to nip pointless trouble in the bud – or gets remedial action moving faster. There’s little point in waiting for an expensive rescue situation to develop.
Successful execution of business-critical programs relies on top managements’ skill in making shrewd judgement-calls on how to set programs up and run them. We provide four compelling services to guarantee your execution initiatives thrive: