Tag Archives: Program Management

We choose to go to the Moon!


“We choose to go to the Moon! … We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …” JFK 12th September 1962

When John F. Kennedy made his bold statement in 1962 NASA did not have all the resources to achieve this vision and some of the technology required did not even exist at the time. On the 20th of July 1969, nearly seven years later, the Eagle landed and Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Back on earth…a little real life anecdote about a programme manager (PM) brought into an organisation to rescue an ailing multi-million programme. The PM oozed sell-confidence and made a lasting first impression. Shortly after arriving in the organisation the PM made a statement that the programme would, without question or doubt, deliver by a given date. So certain was the PM that they took a permanent marker pen crawled under the board room table and wrote the date that the programme would deliver its first release!

Not quite as bold or as visionary as JFK perhaps but I guess the PM was seeking to lay down a marker and impress the audience with their unwavering confidence and determination. You can guess the outcome….

Way before that delivery date was reached it became obvious that: –

  • the PM had not gained the confidence of the programme team
  • had lost the confidence of the board
  • stood no chance of delivering the first release on time

The PM subsequently left the organisation.

So what’s my point?

Bold and visionary statements cannot in themselves achieve the desired outcomes…..

JFK had used Lyndon B. Johnson, the then Vice President, to consult extensively with NASA. The NASA geeks knew that with the right investment in resources and with technology developments already in the pipeline the target, though hard, was realistic and achievable. JFK had a strong base of support and had the necessary authority to ensure that NASA received all the resources required to turn his words into reality.

Contrast that with the PM:-

  1. The PM did not consult extensively prior to making their statement.
  2. The PM had not taken appropriate steps to understand what were the real or perceived obstacles and how they might be overcome.
  3. The PM had not established themselves within the organisation and didn’t have a strong support base.
  4. The PM did not necessarily have all the authority and backing to ensure that the required resources were in place even if they had known what they were!

In short the PM believed that through sheer force of personality and their supreme confidence they could ensure that the delivery date would be met.

If the PM had taken the time to listen to credible concerns while filtering out the naysayers and prophets of doom then they may have understood the real size of the challenge that the programme faced.

With the challenge, opportunities, dependencies, risks and issues more visible (to all) there would have been a much better chance of constructing a realistic and achievable plan. With a realistic and achievable plan, there would have been more buy-in and confidence that the delivery date would be met would have risen across the organisation.

Who knows, instead of the PM writing the delivery date on the underside of the board room table the CEO may have been inclined to write the delivery date on the reception wall!

The 3 Basic Stages of Change

butterflyIn Lewin’s Change Management Model, Lewin describes the three phases as unfreeze, change and freeze but here’s a different way of looking at it…

Stage 1. Contemplation – where we think about why we want to change something, what we hope to achieve through that change and how we would go about it.

Stage 2. Decision – having thought through the options, the issues, the risks and the desired outcomes at the contemplation stage it’s now time to decide – do or do not (there is no try!).

Stage 3. Action – We’ve decided, now we act. Our action will be successful, not successful or perhaps partially successful in achieving our desired outcomes. Depending on the outcome of the action it may be necessary to loop back to stage 1 – contemplation.

Easy and logical right? We probably go through this process instinctively hundreds of times each day for the basic stuff. For example, I’m thirsty and I want to enact a change so that I’m no longer thirsty. But do I want coffee, tea or water (contemplation); I want tea (decision); I go and make a cup of tea and I drink the tea (action) and I’m no longer thirsty! If I was still thirsty I’d loop back around to contemplation – do I want another cuppa or will water do a better job this time around?

But what about when it’s not just about you or a cup of tea? What about when it’s a major complex change involving a team, a department or even the whole organisation? The stages are the same but things just got a lot harder…..

“But you can’t expect everyone to contemplate or decide surely?” No? Think national referendums or general elections – it is possible to put in place mechanisms to contemplate and decide on a large scale. I’m not advocating that the workplace should be a democracy but recognise this – the more people that have to act that feel involved in the contemplation and the decision process then the greater the chance of the change being a success.

So where it is practical consult as widely as possible. Harness the brain power of your team, your department, your organisation at the contemplation stage and you may be surprised at the golden nuggets you’ll discover.

Of course the ultimate decision (unless you do hold a referendum!) is still likely to be made by an individual or a small group of individuals. The Chair, the CEO, the department head, the team leader – no matter how wide you consult, you remain accountable for the decision. Not fair…tough…suck it up…it’s what we get paid for!

So now the decision has been made how do we get people, lots of people to act? There needs to be a plan, the detail of the plan will depend on the scale of the change but it should never be vague and it needs to clearly identify who is doing what and when and what dependancies there are across the plan or external to the plan.

It is essential where major transformational change is desired, even before we get into the detail of who is doing what and when, to get as much buy-in as possible from those who you need to act. A great way to do this is through the construction of stories or blueprints.

A story or blueprint is a high-level vision of the future state that is desired after the change has taken place. The clearer the vision, the more descriptive of what things will be like or how we will do things, the more understanding we will attain. Understanding doesn’t equal buy-in so try to ensure that all stakeholders, particularly those who are involved in the ‘Act’ stage have a stake in reaching that future state.

A great companion of the story is the alternative story or blueprint. The alternative story describes what things will be like if we do not make the change. Usually it describes an outcome that is not desired (otherwise why do the change!). The alternative story can sometimes be a stronger motivator than the story!

So who’d like a cuppa? (Let the contemplation begin!).