Not again

Not Again (sigh)

Uttered by an executive right after being told the program he is championing is ‘under delivering’ and ‘over costing’. By any measure it’s sub-optimal.

The program has been going for 13 months, has a budget of $23M and a projected positive impact on the bottom line of $67M over five years.

With only three months to run, the executive had been feeling pretty confident. The status updates were green, the budget was being consumed as planned and the program director was reporting everything as on schedule. The change and communication plan was in full swing and getting good feedback. The executive had dared to hope, ‘this time’, a program would be implemented and go live and be loved as planned.

But the program director told him this morning there are a few problems. The problems relate to testing not going well, people from the business saying what’s being delivered is underwhelming, and last minute scope changes. The program director is predicting the business will not sign off on the project and to correct the situation is going to take longer and more money.

The quantum of time and money needed to complete the program haven’t been worked through yet but the program director wanted the executive to know about the problem.

I answered his call and could hear the tiredness, frustration and defeat in his voice.He reported they’d done everything right. Following a previously challenged program, he’d taken advice from big consulting and planned the program, cost it carefully, scoped it diligently, governed it with focus, and monitored its progress. He’d even had an external health check done a few months ago by those very advisors. He didn’t know where to turn or what to do.

It’s tough. He thought he had it under control only to have it slip away, seemingly at the last minute. Should he get the big consultants in to fix it?

In reality. Projects and programs don’t slip away at the last minute. The seeds of slippage are sown at the very start. It’s the little things like

·       not having a loud and consistent message about what success is

·       monitoring the budget expenditure against time instead of achievement

·       waiting to include the broader business until it’s ready to show

·       scope being defined as what’s in without detailing what’s out

·       assumptions not being flushed out

·       not listening to comments of dissent or query in coffee conversations

But the big one, the one everyone knew but no one took on, was that risk was skewed towards the end of the program.

Risk arising due to:

·       testing being scheduled at the end of the project

·       the first time the people who will use the result is at the end of the project

·       assumption that everything that’s gone before is correct

·       not enough time or budget to rework much

My advice to the executive? Keep going and in parallel run a project to address some of the risks above. Will it take longer? Yes. Will it cost more? Yes. Was it ever going to be successful with the original scope, plan and budget? Nope.

He asked again about getting the ‘big’ consultants back in. I considered carefully before replying with “their best advice got you here”.

I was met with silence, and an offer to pay for lunch if I came in and talked to him.

The real question here is how do you know you’re getting the right advice?

Update: RNC is now running the program and is continuing to deliver while simultaneously limiting the impact of risks. The overall increase in cost is predicted to be circa $2.1m and the delay to completion is estimated to be 5 months. The impact on the business case is significant in terms of direct cost to benefit analysis, delayed opportunity to use resources and money on other initiatives, potential loss of market leader advantage and reduced window in which to realise benefits.