Tag: Change Management

Best Practice Program Design

When managing major organizational change and improvement, programmes remain the most effective framework for achieving success.

The level of complexity and risk involved in shifting an enterprise into a new phase of development and operation – and the associated investment – means the process has to be managed properly and improvement measured.

However, programmes remain very challenging, not least because the world we live in has altered almost beyond recognition: the Covid-19 pandemic is a huge factor as enterprises try to catch up. But the demands of society are also changing, with people wanting things better and faster.

Change now happens continually and organizations need enterprise agility – the capability to pivot in response to their environment. And, in a typical programme timeframe of three to five years, a lot can happen.

This is why the design phase of a programme is so critical to get right and where a best practice approach provides the necessary level of focus and rigour.


Best practice programme design – setting up for success

Traditionally, programme design has been neglected. I’ve seen programmes where the organization has a pressing desire to just “do something”, so people run off and start doing things without taking time to formulate and agree the programme vision and future state for the business.

If you don’t design your programme properly it’s likely to fail and potentially waste a lot of money in the process. Therefore, there simply shouldn’t be any debate – design is compulsory.

This will set up your programme up for success by installing the building blocks for delivering the benefits, managing associated risks, and creating what an organization will look like in the future.

Managing Successful Programmes (MSP 5th edition) highlights four aspects of programme design:

  • Vision
  • Benefits
  • Target operating model (the new, future state of the organization)
  • Risk identification and prioritization

As each of these programme elements are happening simultaneously, they must be integrated. If not, the nightmare scenario is a target operating model that doesn’t align with the vision, affecting the adoption of the change and reducing the expected benefits.

Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle: the image on the box is the future state or vision you’re building; the individual pieces are contained inside the box and, when put together, they deliver on the original promise (in programme terms, the target operating model).


Understanding and creating the programme vision

The vision reflects the future state of the organization; something that everyone needs to endorse to gain engagement and commitment for the change.

It should be encapsulated in a concise and easily understood vision statement (i.e. jargon-free), outlining why the status quo is not an option. This provides senior management with a driving force for the programme.

Whoever facilitates the vision statement (for example, via a workshop) must ensure it involves the stakeholders affected by the programme and not just the sponsoring group.

And the vision statement can be visual as much as written. For example, we once used a Chinese transformation puzzle as a visual that populated all communications with the programme team; reminding us constantly of what was critical for its future.


A bright future: the target operating model

What constitutes the move from an organization’s current state to its desired, future state is contained in the target operating model.

The sponsoring group decides what it wants the organization to look like in the future, enabling engagement with the wider enterprise, accessing resources, and guiding the programme team towards delivering the target operating model.

This can cover a range of elements such as technology, knowledge and learning, processes, culture, organization, infrastructure, information, and data.


Defining and designing programme benefits

Another aspect of programme design – the benefits – drive programmes, as their delivery supports the organization’s strategic objectives.

There are two main categories for benefits:

  • Efficiency – obtaining business results with fewer resources and reducing costs
  • Effectiveness – creating better results and improved adaptability.

Creating a “benefits map” establishes the connection between benefits and strategic objectives. Benefits are realized at various points during and after the programme’s lifecycle, with the detailed timing included in the benefits realization plan.

At this point, programme design must also address potential disbenefits. For example, if a programme involves merging two call centers the benefits could include streamlined processes and benefits of scale. However, disbenefits might involve customer call duration increasing for a period of time while the change is embedded.


Being ready for risk

Compared to projects, the scale of potential risk in programmes is far greater.

So, it’s necessary – at programme design stage – to introduce a risk management mindset and approach. Without it, your programme may not deliver the necessary benefits.

Starting up a programme is highly important and therefore you need to identify and prioritize risks from the earliest opportunity. For example, a significant risk might be the capacity and capability of the organization to undertake the programme at all. To mitigate that risk might involve recruiting more suitably qualified people.

Managing programme risk effectively requires a plan for how to mitigate the risk and then checking and acting on what you’ve identified.


Creating confidence through programme design

 What should programme managers and their stakeholders expect from focusing on programme design?

It gives them a structure that creates confidence to deliver what the stakeholders require. And, for the stakeholders, they should expect to see the benefits they signed off on day one.

Also, effective programme design feeds into projects: it helps to assess which projects are business-critical, ensures they are created, scheduled properly, and will produce the outputs that lead ultimately to outcomes and benefits.

Ultimately, programme design will ensure that the future state of the organization is clear. This means understanding the gap that will be filled to achieve the future target operating model as well as how to manage the associated benefits and risks.

Organizations tested positive or negative during Covid-19?

In the past few months, with deadly second wave of Corona virus in India, I have seen and heard of many cases that unveiled the Empathy and Apathy culture in different organizations.  I feel these instances can truly differentiate a good organization from a bad organization. So next time, when you look for that job change, also check how these organizations treated their employees during the pandemic. This could be another criteria to select your next dream company in the future.

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Do Difficult Stakeholders Really Exist?

We hear and use the term ‘difficult stakeholders’ regularly, but is it the person that is difficult, the relationship or the situation?



It is hard to be truly objective, and the term ‘difficult stakeholder’ is almost always a subjective assessment. Sometimes the same person can be easy to work with in one context, and difficult in another. This points to particular situational issues which cause difficulties in reaching agreement. Sometimes a stakeholder seems difficult to one member of the team, but perfectly pleasant to work with to another. This may point to relationship or situational issues. And sometimes, we have to work with someone who is just difficult. With everyone. In every situation.

Despite general agreement that this person is difficult, we often tell ourselves it’s still a subjective assessment (“There are two sides to every story…” or, “They have friends and family so they can’t be like this all the time…”).

So, do objectively difficult people exist? Apparently – yes.

stakeholder 1

The Difficult Person Test

IDRlabs have developed the Difficult Person Test, which is based on research on the structure of antagonism. It uses 35 questions to create a radar chart of seven characteristics:

  •      Callousness
  •      Grandiosity
  •      Aggression
  •      Suspicion
  •      Manipulativeness
  •      Dominance
  •      Risk-taking.

Many people score highly against at least one area but a high score in only one area is unlikely to create a high overall score. A high score overall suggests, objectively, that you are more difficult to get along with than most people.

It is easy to work on the assumption that difficult people must already know they are difficult, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Most of us think we are self-aware (95%!) but research suggests less than 15% of us are able to demonstrate good self-awareness.




We should all make increased self-awareness part of our personal development plans. Though this test, like most self-assessments, has many limitations there is always something to be learned by reflecting on how our preferences affect our behaviours and how our behaviours affect our relationships.


It is never too late in a relationship, group or team to re-set expectations. Contracting often takes place between groups or individuals at the start of a relationship to define how we want to work together, what we expect from each other and the behaviours we want to encourage and avoid. It also provides the opportunity to discuss how we will approach difficulties and unexpected behaviours when they arise. It enables an non-confrontational conversation that “as a group, we have moved away from the behaviours that we all agreed”.

Responding vs. Reacting

We learn in many ways that we cannot control other peoples’ behaviour, but we can control our response to it. Giving ourselves time to process an emotional reaction and turn it into a professional response pays dividends. Although we may feel provoked or even justified by the actions of difficult stakeholders, this legitimises the poor the behaviours and does nothing to improve the relationship.


Does it help to know that some people are objectively difficult? Perhaps not much, but it can at least provide an opportunity to reflect, consider how other people see us and even prompt a conversation within teams and organisations.

Before we label stakeholders as ‘difficult’, we need to consider the relationship and situational factors, and consider how we might try to resolve the difficulty. There are always two sides to every story, but perhaps the stories we believe about ourselves require a little more scrutiny.

Further reading: 

Have you taken the difficult person test? HBR (2021)

Why most people lack self-awareness and what to do about it. Training Magazine (2019)


The Business of IT PPM: Putting the business into your portfolio management strategy

Project and portfolio management (PPM) is designed to help organizations deliver on their goals, optimize performance and become more adaptive in a constantly changing business environment.

It is a secret weapon of IT teams to deliver value to the business, become strategically aligned with goals of the organization, and most importantly, show that value through data and reporting. If your organization has been searching for new ways to take advantage of the benefits of IT PPM through the optimization of your PPM strategy, your project management office (PMO) has the tools and the capability to do just that. Focusing on four key areas, your IT PPM can be the biggest influencer in your IT strategy and an extension of the business, rather than just a function of business.

IT helps PMOs manage projects, portfolios and investments collectively by harnessing vast amounts of data, resources and deliverables under one umbrella, then providing tools that support the distillation of that information into meaningful reporting that drives all sort of decision-making. Let’s take a look at the four key ways you can leverage IT PPM to advance business.

1.      Prioritization: The right work at the right times, consistently

In order to realize the benefits of PPM in your business, your organization needs to have a single, integrated prioritization system that takes into account all facets of your operation across all types and sources of work. IT PPM empowers your PMO and other stakeholders with the ability to make informed decisions based on capability, capacity, change readiness and other important business drivers.

This is because IT PPM provides broad visibility into all areas of a portfolio, from deadlines and deliverables, to resources and historic results. In short, your process and technology helps determines what is possible. It is important to recognize that IT implementation is a partnership with a singular goal: the long-term success of the business. While technology determines what is possible, business provides needed context for these prioritized goals.

·         Top down alignment

·         Strategically focused

·         Based on optimizing ROI

·         Balances all sources and types of work

·         Balances innovation and time to solution

·         Eliminates gaps and inefficiencies

Managing your resources while ensuring the right people are deployed to the right projects is the tricky part of project management, which is why PPM can be so helpful in enhancing your overall strategy. Too often, PMOs get stuck in a rut that makes distributing resources more about urgency than accuracy. They can only see the crisis in their immediate vicinity and solving it quickly becomes a singular goal. When you’re putting out a fire, you don’t pause to complain about the type of hose that is handed to you, right?

2. Resources: Optimized utilization, maximize efficiency


Resourcing should be strategic and future-focused — it must consider the current and future needs, as well as time to prepare. In the midst of change and uncertainty, it is difficult to maintain a long term strategy, but it actually becomes more important to do so. Ensuring your resources align to the projects you have deemed important to the business will ensure you are delivering on those promises. Furthermore, a solid resourcing strategy must also recognize that skills can be just as important as availability when it comes to distribution. It’s not enough to have a warm body at the monitor — each task needs the right taskee to ensure it is performed efficiently. IT PPM helps PMOs balance the distribution of work across all projects and portfolios with a dedicated, single resource pool that includes an exhaustive list of the skills, certificates and capabilities of each team member so no resource is over-utilized or double booked.

Business must go on and IT PPM supports the PMO to curate data on every resource at their disposal and find them quickly and easily when it comes time to assign work. When backed by the prioritization benefit listed above, your PMO can optimize utilization by providing the right resource for the job with zero waste or overlap.

3. Pivots

Rapid, pain-free adjustments

If the developments in the last year have taught us anything, it is that business is not stable. Even the factors we all once considered a foundational element of operations, such as person-to-person meetings, physical offices or fast and simple travel, have collapsed in the face of unprecedented hardships. What we have also learned is that flexibility is the key to survival and that IT is imperative to that flexibility. In a recent Forrester report, analyst Ted Schadler emphasizes this point saying, “Digital has been the only reasonable response to the COVID-19 crisis. And it’s the only reasonable response to the pandemic recession.”1 Many PMO leaders and project managers have learned and lived the power of the pivot and the importance it plays on business today. But the truth is, pivots and change happen all the time and your IT PPM strategy needs to allow for that. Embracing a change culture and instilling measures to support change – rather than reject it – will provide business returns from your project investments.

Technology can be credited with saving thousands of businesses and helping them to pivot during recent shutdowns and dramatic shifts to the way we all do business. In the realm of PPM, technology helps PMOs anticipate, plan for, and quickly roll with the proverbial punches. IT can be leveraged to monitor changes in needs, changes in goals and changes in alignment to make the right changes at the right time in the right way 

4. Control

Oversight and governance without slowing performance.

A common theme of the past three elements is visibility. By providing your PMO the ability to see and understand what is going on in all areas of operation, you are providing them with one of their greatest assets in supporting your business goals: control. IT PPM is automation-driven and results-oriented. Instead of parsing through stacks and stacks of spreadsheets, personnel files and creative briefs, information is gathered digitally and then sorted effectively.

No matter how brilliant your PMO and PMs might be, there is no substitute for the power of technology when it comes to compiling thousands of bits of information, not only making it easily accessible, but contextualizing it into meaningful reports. In short, your PMO can provide effective management that is driven by contextualized insight.

PPM is an excellent way to improve your business and maximize its effectiveness, profitability and positive outcomes. By adding in the benefits of IT PPM, your organization can achieve next-level performance that will help you ensure rock solid footing, even in uncertain times.

1 The Pandemic Recession Demands A Digital Response. Schadler, Ted. 25, June, 2020. https://www.forrester.com/report/The+Pandemic+Recession+Demands+A+Digital+Response/-/E-RES159643?objectid=RES159643