PROGRAMME RESCUE, CORPORATE TURNAROUND
The importance and structure of rescuing out of control programme developments.
Here at the edge of leading commercial development of what is right and what is wrong in the world of business.
10-15 years ago around 60-70% of business programmes failed. They failed either the business expectations, they failed the budgets or timelines, they failed to deliver. This was costly and chaotic. Then came a whole raft of methodologies and new ways of working that gave varying frameworks and structures in an attempt to remedy the repetitive mistakes.
Yet here we are in 2011 – and many of the same mistakes as before are still being made with the result that the same high cost and chaos continues to drain profitability and future success.
No, actually, today isn’t the same as yesterday. Today the costs of programme or corporate failure are higher. The investment is bigger, the plans are more ambitious, the market place is far more dynamic and competitive. This only means mistakes are far more painful than ever before. Yes, many things have changed … yet the same mindset prevails.
Programmes with massive investments and reputations at stake fail for a number of reasons. But let’s look at the most common. Business needs to change. The world is changing. The pace of change is increasing. Business needs to change in order to remain relevant – and profitable. This also is true of non-commercial organisations. To change, to develop, to progress into the changing and highly dynamic commercial landscape, businesses need strategic plans. Moving forward with these plans often required defined programmes of work.
Well intentioned, well meaning, ambitious plans with significant funding. Why do they often fail?
They often fail because business change is often perceived to have a technology solution. Many business managers do not understand change. This is a major failing. Change for many is one of those intangibles. Therefore they are happy to off load responsibility to anyone who can create a tangible impact – the technology people with their magic black boxes and promises of an all-singing, all-dancing solution. This results in what was a business led development turning into a technology led development, and usually with little interaction with the business managers.
This is corporate madness of the highest order. Because when the technology solution is delivered, it is usually not aligned to the true business need or strategy, it is usually costly and it is usually still not understood because it has little or no business context.
The costs of these developments tend to be high. This is because the pure technology solution will always want more money to overcome what they see as gaps in the planning. And then more money and more money. And the business won’t dare refuse because by this stage too much is at stake and after all … doesn’t the technology promise to deliver on all those strategic promises?
Far from being a “solution”, the programme suddenly becomes corporate nightmare with the business, already having invested far more than it initially planned, hurriedly instituting business change. This invariably results in chaos, loss of confidence, loss of market share … and loss of careers.
To some, this may seem an extreme case. Take my word for it … it isn’t. It is common. It’s just that most companies, especially the major ones, will never openly admit to such costly mistakes. Instead of becoming good at development and progression they have become very, very good at covering their tracks as they stagger from crisis to crisis.
This truly is corporate madness of the highest order. Yet standing here at the leading edge of commercial development, to be honest, I see no indication of this madness changing.
So, apart from the obvious of trying to ensure the programmes are on the right track from the start, which is a well trodden area of discussion, what can companies do when their programmes (often) go wrong? How can these organisations claw back the investment and create some semblance of sanity, some claim of success from the chaos they have allowed to envelope?
They need to rescue their programmes.
As has been stated, programmes fail for specific reasons. It is therefore important to understand these reasons. Everything I’ve written in the previous paragraphs has been for a reason. That reason is to show the type of corporate dynamics programme rescue has to deal with.
So, what does programme rescue entail? For sure, it entails a lot of intensive work. People involved in programme rescue will always have the dangerous task of sweeping away the politics, because by this late stage some parts of the company (with or without the presence of suppliers) may well be in an advanced state of trench warfare.
Any organisation at war with itself, or with a deeply engrained blame culture will use increasingly finite resources to essentially fund the war … draining profitability and endangering any future the organisation has.
There therefore needs to be a culture shift. This, of course, is easier said than done, especially if there is resistance to change (there is always resistance to change) in an environment where there has been too much unstructured change and far too many unknowns.
Companies just need to know when to stop digging the hole they are in. Expending more resources digging a deeper hole will not get you out of the hole. It just means wasted resources, wasted opportunity and a wasted future.
By this stage it isn’t about ego. It’s about survival.
Ego’s tend to get in the way of survival.
The skills to deal with programme rescue is one of the essentials in todays business world. Programme rescue can be harsh, it can be tough going especially in the face of resistance to change and emnity from senior level stakeholders. Programme rescue at times can be very unsubtle, but it can also be intricate and, when successful, sublime. Make no mistake, this does take skill, it takes knowledge and a clear ability to work concisely in the face of hardship and panic.
1. SENIOR STAKEHOLDER MANAGEMENT
- who are they?
- what do they want?
- what do they really want?
- the most senior level sponsorship?
- what is the history?
- what is the impact / influence of each?
- at this late stage are they enablers or blockers?
- are they in the right positions?
- does the senior configuration need to change?
- does there need to be a re-alignment of responsibility?
- what are the skills and abilities?
- how can we help one another?
- how can they all work together to produce sustainable advantage?
2. STRATEGIC DISCOVERY
- what are the plans?
- what has been done?
- what needs to be done?
- internal / external pieces of the jigsaw?
- what are these pieces?
- how fractured is it all?
- what is the state of the strategic partnerships / suppliers involved?
- what is the problem?
- when did it all go wrong?
- what have been the consequences?
- what will be the consequences of a complete failure?
- do you have the necessary support to change things?
- does the organisation fully understand what this means?
- are all the senior stakeholders FULLY on board and actively supporting?
- what is the cunning plan?
- are there any skills gaps?
à report your findings.
- do NOT be dragged down from the highest level of management
- do NOT become embroiled in the battle ground of middle management
- you need the continued and active support or the senior managers
- they need to know what you know
- together they all need to agree on your recommendations
- communication is key
- engagement is key
- the end point focus is key
- being a completely impartial expert is key
- being the only sensible and clear thinking person is key
- do NOT “take sides”
3. CREATING FOCUS
- communication and agreement within the senior management
- cutting through the politics
- the cunning plan becomes official
- BUSINESS ownership, accountability, visibility, responsibility, resources
(they will hate that part)
- functionality within IT but NOT overall programme ownership
- ensuring technology is a core business enabler – not the driver
- communicating the plan
- involvement of the wider audience (internal and external)
- initiating change management
- re-assuring, calming fears, releasing the tension
- re-establishing common sense
- cutting through more politics
- visible plans everyone can buy into
- what does everyone need to achieve the goals?
- creating shared purpose
- creating shared cause, shared goals, shared future
- creating ownership of future success
- create willingness
- create motivation
- create energy
- focus the energy
4. AGREED MILESTONES
- as part of the cunning plan, what are they?
- who will deliver them?
- who will support?
- how can everyone play their part?
- dealing with more politics
- reward and recognition
- extended responsibilities within a changing landscape
- flexibility to alter the plan within a changing landscape
- maintain the support at all levels
- maintain the focus
- maintain the energy and motivation
- report the achieved milestones
- shout about the successes
- name names
- give people something to reach for
- keep moving towards the stated goals - together
5. REACHING FOR THE END GOAL – TOGETHER
- clear goals
- something everyone can understand
- NOT vague corporate speak
- one company, one goal, one future
- continually focused on what needs to be achieved
- NOT underplaying the difficulties
- focus on the success and the achievements
- give people the opportunity to be proud of what they do
- one company, one goal, one future
Programme rescue isn’t easy. The main danger areas are:
- lack of senior level understanding
- lack of senior level buy-in
- senior level denial
Usually the different layers of the work force know there is a major problem long before it is acknowledged by the senior management. The main focus areas are:
Look around at the company you are in. Be honest. See exactly why these focus areas are important. They are important because this is what is lacking in many organisations. Many will deny it … but many more will secretly and quietly agree. And because these focus points are already missing from the company, is exactly the reason why programmes fail – and will continue to fail and incur unacceptable cost, until the focus points are re-established.
Programme rescue may be about rescuing the programme in the first instance. Yet, often, to do this, you will have to alter the business culture. If the company is serious about development, they need to allow you to do this otherwise … you’ll be back next year and with even more problems than before.