Part three, the last in our series: Be ready to alter course
By their very nature, programs are longer term initiatives; they typically span multiple years. Thus, it is highly probable that business conditions will change during the course of the program. Additionally, upon program commencement, a high degree of ambiguity exists as to what final outcomes will look like several years down the road.
Consequently, it is critical to continuously scan the environment to see if conditions have changed since the program’s inception. If so, be ready to make necessary course adjustments. Where ambiguity exists, the program is responsible to engage with and account for unknowns and bring certainty to its work. ‘Sticking to the plan’ risks not being on top of changes that affect the program’s direction, effectiveness and outcomes – ultimately delivering an obsolete solution that misses organizational targets.
Program management factors
Several areas require constant attention. The following steps can ensure a program remains responsive and relevant:
- Examine the continued alignment to strategic direction: Leaders initiate programs to support strategic direction. If the strategic direction has changed, the program also needs to change direction and realign.
- Regularly review assumptions: Assumptions made early in the program design and definition process underpin crucial decisions. If these assumptions are no longer valid, change the program accordingly.
- Monitor the business landscape: Business remains fluid and dynamic by nature. Internal and external landscapes can and do change. If organizational priorities, business results, competitive pressures, market conditions or precedent-setting legislation force a new direction, change tack and set the program on the right course.
- Be current on tools and technology advancements: Throughout the duration of a program, new advancements in tools and technology may present more efficient, cost-effective options. Incorporate these regularly into program components.
- Seek out stakeholder expectations: Stay attuned to stakeholder expectations and perceptions; again, do not rely on assumptions. Stakeholder expectations change over time and these should influence program direction.
- Evaluate program performance: Last but not least, the performance of component projects needs to be constantly evaluated. Move resources, change priorities and sequences, replace projects with alternatives and cancel poor-performing components.
How to monitor influencing factors and change course as required
Four key methods guide course alterations on programs:
- Define a set of key measures and metrics and report on them regularly to ensure the original intent of the program remains relevant and on track to meet the desired goals and objectives.
- Together with program leadership, plan and execute a regular process to review the program’s foundational elements. These include – but are not limited to:
- Strategic direction
- Organizational priorities
- Business results
- Assign explicit responsibility to individuals within the program team to monitor and report on changing external factors, including:
- Technology landscape
- Vendor relationships
- Market conditions
- Competitive environment
- Relevant regulatory changes
- Design and maximize the use of stakeholder engagement forums. Take the pulse of diverse stakeholder groups via focus groups, advisory councils and special interest groups to solicit feedback. These can significantly influence the outcomes of a program.
A word of caution. The reality that ‘circumstances may change’ sometimes creates a tendency to not plan a program adequately. Flexibility and proactive assessment of the environment must not preclude proper planning. This critical balancing act illustrates why program management and program leadership requires a high level of experience, expertise and skill to successfully execute and deliver business benefits.