What can we do when a programme does not meet our expectations?
Programmes that require substantial investment may have to promise the Earth to get their business cases approved. Especially ones that are ‘transformational’ and where the outcomes rely on people behaving differently. Benefits are talked up. Uncertainty and risk are under-played. Having ‘sold’ the programme to the investment board the delivery team must fulfil the promises made by others.
The problem is that transformation programmes carry lots of uncertainty in addition to the normal range of risks inherent in any project that is delivering something new. Quite often it is the uncertainty over just ‘how’ the benefits, that were co-created in multiple workshops, will be achieved as new capability becomes available. We may need to be accelerating programme outcomes to maintain the rationale for investment.
“We must ask; Exactly what is each of us going to do differently, individually and collectively to accelerate the outcomes that will make our business tangibly ‘better’?”
Using data to enable better decisions – Active Critical Path Analysis
I have been fortunate enough to experience working with the new product introduction teams of a world-class multi-national technology organisation. These project teams were relentlessly accelerating programme outcomes by reducing the lead time for delivery of their products into the market. Each day the product launch was brought forward was a day sooner that the revenue stream could be turned on. This created a tangible positive impact on the business case benefit (i.e. the Return on Investment).
“We might reflect; How did they do this?”
They had a detailed plan including a dependency network. Their planners knew where the first and second critical path was through that plan. The team pored over it twice a week to find opportunities to shorten the critical path. For example; could they spend $500 to fast-track an electronic circuit board layout through design and enable them to bring forward product delivery by five days? Doing so would improve the NPV of the project by $250,000!
“We note; This was in the domain of tangible products not the intangible world of transformation of business capability and ‘Change Management’.”
However, this approach can help us to think about how to accelerate outcomes in the softer world of services when we combine it with other techniques (e.g. Value Trees) to provide some of the missing ‘data’.
Using physical metaphors to generate insights and engagement
The physical world is what we spend our first two years of life learning about. We exist first and foremost in our three-dimensional habitat. Consequently, our language is rich with physical terminology that we routinely apply in non-physical situations.
“Sad you missed the game on Sunday? Don’t worry you will get over it.”
“Are you feeling a bit down” or “What a great result, you must feel on top of the world”
We can use physical metaphors to create insights and ideas that relate to an intangible construct such as a change programme. I spend quite a bit of my consulting time helping programme leaders to simplify their programmes’ narratives so that they can be better understood by the whole range of stakeholders. Nothing is quite so simple as a three-term equation. Take Newton’s Second Law of Motion (you may remember from Year 9 school science) “F=MA”.
Force applied to a body = Its Mass x its Acceleration
Or more usefully for our inquiry about acceleration:
Acceleration of a body (the rate at which it changes speed) = Force applied / Its Mass
“If we want more acceleration we need more Force or less Mass”
So, assuming for a moment that a transformation programme has some similar properties to a physical thing – how might we add ‘Force’ or reduce ‘Mass’?
Let the ideas for accelerating programme outcomes flow:
- Break the change down into smaller chunks (increments)
- Break the chunks away from the rest of the programme (remove dependency)
- Encourage chunks to compete to achieve outcomes first
- Be more directive / assertive in changing peoples’ behaviour
- Add active ‘Pull’ from staff while the programme ‘Pushes’ (compelling rationale)
- Let the programme push harder and accept more business risk in the change
- Persuade the strongest people to start pulling and pushing in the right direction
- Reduce friction in the processes of change
- Reduce resistance by removing everything that is not pushing towards the goal
- Add a lot more fuel in a short space of time (“Subaru dump-valve effect”)
And, breaking out into second-order physical systems metaphors;
- Tune the programme to the resonant frequency of the business, and;
- Be ready to damp the responses generated in real-time.
Maybe the cover picture makes sense now. Maybe not 🙂
In this blog I have summarised a couple of approaches to help sponsors with accelerating programme outcomes. My intention is to illustrate that there are ways to improve programme delivery and that these can be informed by looking at the situation from different perspectives. Please call if you wish to discuss. Thank you.
Nigel Stock -07803 259400