Practical Advice for Increasing Program Success

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Embarking on a large program is a huge time and expense commitment, with the ultimate success measured in overall cost savings, risk reduction, and/or increased business efficiencies. Oftentimes, the fear of being able to certify program success coupled with large financial and resource outlays could delay the approval decision. Even worse, this fear can halt clients altogether from executing on a program that is desperately needed to drive their business forward. What if you could proactively take measures to increase your chances of success? I have been involved in large programs from many facets including conceiving the strategic change and building a roadmap to get there, to operating as a resource on the ground during the execution phase. Through these engagements I have observed first-hand which components were put in place that made a positive impact on the overall outcome, and on the flip side, what resulted when those elements were absent. Based on these experiences, below I share practical advice for bolstering program success.

Engaged participants

A large part of attaining resource engagement at the program onset and more importantly, keeping these resources engaged for the entire duration, has to do with management demonstrating program buy-in (more on that topic below). Active participation across the program has a direct correlation to a program’s success or failure. By obtaining and retaining the engagement of participants involved in every aspect of the program, you are able to effectively harness the power of arguably the most important element of any body of work – people.

Sponsorship from all management tiers

As mentioned above, a sizable component in driving participant engagement is to exhibit buy-in for the program. This starts at the top with executive leadership and trickles all the way down to resource managers. Often, project resources will look upward and align both their attitude and actions toward the program based on how their manager treats the initiative. Any breakdown of this sponsorship along the chain of command can cultivate disengaged employees and wreak havoc on program success. I was once part of a large program where the head of the transformation initiative would routinely walk the floor and converse with each project resource. This helped to create and nurture relationships across the program and made resources feel valued. Management displaying enthusiasm for the program and taking the time to articulate to contributors that what they do matters is extremely encouraging and motivating. Ultimately this positive environment, initially sparked and continually fostered with management exhibiting buy-in and excitement, contributes to program success.

Early project wins

At the start of a program, when the duration is likely measured in “years”, the lengthy timeline can sound daunting to everyone involved. However, just because a program’s overall lifespan can be quite long does not prohibit tangible positive results to be realized by downstream users prior to the program completion. Programs are comprised of many projects, and it is wise to sequence one or more shorter duration efforts toward the onset. Seeing the fruits of your labor in material form and realizing the benefit they have to the business is extremely motivating. This helps promote a positive view of the program with resources directly involved as well as those reaping the value downstream. These small successes should be celebrated along the way to remind participants of what their tireless efforts can achieve and continue encouraging them to keep working with the same diligence throughout the program.

Dedicated testing workstream

Even if you have detailed test scripts and intelligent people executing sophisticated test cases, this phase of work can still go awry without the proper testing plan in place. Therefore, the structure and management of testing should be owned by a devoted set of individuals. Develop a testing approach with clear expectations and requirements for entry criteria, test scripts, test cases, documentation requirements, and exit criteria. Identify an application to track progress, store results, and generate reporting. Testing data points are critical to create test metrics at any given time with the ability to hone in on critical issues. By organizing a streamlined testing approach, it makes the “go/no-go” decision crystal clear and is supported by indisputable results data.

Model office environment

Establishing a dedicated model office has many benefits. As a living and breathing prototype that is reflective of the future production environment (at least, as close as possible) a model office supports more thorough and accurate testing. As this model office environment is configured as it would be in production, test execution results are able to take these configuration nuances into account and mitigate unexpected outcomes upon go-live. Additionally, the model office allows end users to innately become more familiar and comfortable with the new platform well before production go-live, simply by involving them. Of course, formal training should still be provided, however this offers a way to reduce the overall learning curve of a new application. A model office environment also supports the ability for end users to validate that the new technology supports their requirements; a feedback loop that can be repeated many times if it is discovered that business requirements were not fulfilled appropriately.

Although it is difficult to predict a program’s end outcome with 100% certainty, by considering these practical recommendations you can take steps toward increasing the success rate of your intended vision.