How do I start running a programme?

Initially, the clear staring point is deciding where you want to go. Getting out a map and plotting a route across the country without first deciding on the destination would be rather pointless, although that is precisely what some organisations do. ‘Let’s get started and decide the end point when we know a bit more’ is a commonly heard statement, albeit in slightly different words.

Good practice, at either project or programme level, is to decide the end point so that it is clear when it is reached. For projects the end point is a clear description of the end product – the final deliverable. In the case of programmes it is a little less simple. It is the vision, supported by the blueprint, that shows us what we will see when we have achieved the end result of a changed organisation.

Having decided where we are going, we then must decide how to get there. The route chosen will depend on a number of things.

  • What is already going on in the organisation that will help us to get to the chosen destination? Commonly referred to as ‘in-flight’ projects, these are projects that are already underway and that will take us where we want to go.
  • What is already going on that will not add to the effort of achieving our aim? These projects must be stopped or at least reduced to avoid wasted effort. This is, very often, the biggest and most difficult decision to make.
  • What else do we need to do to achieve our purpose? What new work needs to be started? This will include new projects as well as non-project activities, perhaps to fill the gaps between the work already going on or planned for the future.
  • What technologies do we want to use or avoid? Particular technologies have major impacts on the way programmes are conducted: the decision to implement a major software package, for example (SAP, Oracle), can affect a whole range of other areas that, at first sight, might seem rather unrelated. Without a conscious decision on such matters, the organisation can ‘sleep walk into a nightmare’ where it is impossible to get out, but it is far too expensive or difficult to continue.

Governance and benefits

If the governance of the programme is not sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction at this time it can have a very nasty bite at the end of a programme. As an example only, disagreements on the definition and measurement of benefits at the end of the programme (agreeing the programme has achieved what it set out to achieve) can be caused by lack of agreement up front about the benefits. If the governance hasn’t sorted out who has the role of defining and measuring the benefits, then everyone will have a different view and chaos will reign. Benefits owners are essential and they must have the appropriate authority – agreed at the start of the programme.

There are many more such areas where agreements must be achieved at the start and not left to the end. Finance, risk, change control, resources, procurement, legal issues and so on all have the potential to derail an otherwise very successful programme. The right people must be involved at the start, when key decisions are made.

If you wait until all the lights are ‘green’ before you leave home, you’ll never get started on your trip to the top.

Zig Ziglar