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.

3 Most Common Mistakes to Avoid in Managing Multiple Projects

Ever found yourself in a state where you are managing multiple projects? If you compare your situation today from about three to five years ago, the chances are that you will see more projects on your plate that need to get done.

A project can be anything, from designing a coffee machine for your client to remodeling their workspaces or even to studying ocean currents. The bottom line is that project management is an integral part of every business today. And, when you are handling multiple projects, it means more than just dealing with multiple project schedules. With multiple projects come in multiple teams, multiple stakeholders, multiple scopes, multiple change requests, multiple budgets, multiple issues, and risks, even possibly multiple clients. All of this becomes an entirely different ball game and managing it may seem a tough nut to crack, even for the most seasoned project and program managers. Even though you may already be using a project management software, you must always steer clear of these three common mistakes that could affect and potentially jeopardize your projects.

Not Setting Project Goals Upfront

Projects, by definition, are meant to achieve specific goals and objectives. By defining clear and precise goals and objectives for your projects, your teams can focus solely on those goals and outcomes. If the goals are unclear, it can quickly turn your formal project management process into an uncontrollable juggernaut of chaos coming in the form of scope creep, unrealistic expectations from stakeholders, dried up cash flows and all that jazz. Goal setting is a vital component for projects’ success. Yet, when multiple projects come in, managers often seem to take a shortcut and overlook this crucial process of goal setting that can potentially prevent and solve so many problems down the line. Setting project goals upfront help you in the following areas:

  • Understanding why you are doing this project and aligning it to business strategy and plan.
  • Understanding the deliverables that the management or client is expecting from the project.
  • Establishing clear criteria for success (or failure).
  • Identifying conflicting objectives, outcomes or expectations from multiple projects.
  • Identifying resources and capabilities at the beginning.

Asking the right questions at the onset of a project will help you identify meaningful project goals and objectives, which in turn help manage multiple projects successfully.


Not Prioritizing Projects

Manage your priorities, not your time. This quote frequently appears in many productivity and time management blogs. One of the most commonly heard complaints from project managers is that they are struggling with deadlines. The reason being too many times we see teams working on a project that is a lower priority while a higher visibility project starts to slip. This happens when project priorities are not clearly communicated to all stakeholders. When you are managing multiple projects, you often have cross-functional teams working on several tasks across these projects at the same time. If you don’t know what your priorities are, you will end up spending their precious time on useless activities causing important milestones to be missed and deadlines not be met. According to the Pareto Principle, 20% of a project’s input is responsible for 80% of its results. Use this principle as a way to prioritize your efforts. The art of prioritization comes a long way in gaining clarity about which tasks should be assigned to whom thereby help save a lot of hassle and headache.

Forgetting that it’s all about People Management

We live in a world which is increasingly being driven by automation, tools, and data. With organizations investing in advanced project management tools and globalization driving a need for collaboration, the people side of project management does tend to get ignored more often than not. Often while managing multiple projects, project managers tend to get bogged down by the scope, costs, quality, and timelines, and forget about the people who are actually doing the work. This results in either failing to properly manage your team members, or worst, micromanaging them. While it may be tempting to control as many things as possible or trying to do everything yourself, it is actually bad for your team’s morale. Project management is all about people management first. It is the people who help deliver on your project objectives and outcomes. An efficient project manager is, therefore, an enabler. Communication becomes even more crucial while managing multiple projects. You need to make sure that you clearly communicate the roles and responsibilities, and everyone understands how and why their part is vital to the success of the projects and also schedule time for periodic check-ins.

Though managing multiple projects may scare you off at first, you can easily overcome it by avoiding these common mistakes and steering your projects to success.

How to make your manager pay for your project management certification

Achieving a globally-recognised project management certification will improve your ability to lead successful projects.

But it’s not always easy to get certified independently, especially when juggling your career, family and social life. Good training can be expensive too and financial restrictions may be stopping you from building the skills you need.

For most of us, a helping hand from your organisation could make all the difference in achieving a project management certification. Unfortunately, it can be tough to convince your manager to pay for your training.

There are some steps you can take to get the certification you need, without paying out of your pocket. Here’s how to make your manager pay for your project management certification.

1. Explain why it’s in your manager’s interest

It’s ultimately in your manager’s best interest for you to get qualified. Put simply, the better your project management skills, the more you can contribute to the business.

1 in 6 projects overspend by a massive 200%, according to a study by the Harvard Business Review. It’s clear: employees with expert project management knowledge will save money across every project.

For example, becoming a PRINCE2 Practitioner encourages continuous improvement across project management practices. Over time, your projects will become more successful, yielding cost-savings for your business.

Alternatively, achieving the PMP certification will teach you tried-and-tested project management techniques. For over 30 years the best project managers across the world have collaborated to create a body of knowledge which is then taught through the PMP certification.

2. You’ll bring clarity to your projects

Project management certifications bring clarify to your projects by providing tried-and-tested frameworks and methodologies in which to manage projects efficiently. Your projects will benefit from a common and consistent approach that your stakeholders will take confidence in.

For example, the PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner certification provides its students with a standardised system for project management, allowing you to provide accurate reports to your project’s stakeholders, without relying on bureaucracy.

Certification is one of the best ways of adopting a project management methodology in your business and the sooner you do, the better.

3. Clients value certification

If you’re working with external clients, or even delivering projects internally, managing successful projects will help preserve your key client relationships.

It’s well worth considering your organisations wider business goals. Are you bidding on large projects, or plan to in the future? If so, you can assume other organisations will be showing off the credentials of their project managers. Pointing out this disadvantage could help your manager see the bigger picture value of your training and certification.

4. Build your case for training

Once you’ve decided you need the training to improve your job performance, it’s time to build your case for training.

Show your manager that you’re committed to undertaking the training by doing thorough research. Avoid focusing on just one training provider, instead show evidence that you’ve researched numerous certifications and courses.


5. Ask at the right time

Time can be a crucial factor when making the case for training. Your boss may want to discuss your proposition in detail, so making sure you have their complete attention is critical.

Consider raising the topic of certification at your performance review. You should already be discussing your professional development at your performance review, so it’s an ideal time to raise your request, while explaining why the training would improve your performance.

It’s also worth considering your team’s training budget, and when it is released. Raising your request early, before the budget is swallowed up later in the year will make it more likely to be accepted.

An alternative strategy is to make your request when you’re training budget is set to expire. Within enterprises or large organisations, departments will often leave money on the table by not utilising their full periodic training allotments. Timing your request towards when you’re training budget is set to expire could strengthen your position.

Another good time to achieve your project management certification is in-between projects. This is an opportunity to highlight tools and methods you may not have used in your last project, and how you’ll be in a better position to tackle your next project from the start.

If waiting is not an option, there’s no need to ambush your boss in person. Craft a compelling email that explains why you need certification first and then negotiate it in person afterwards. This way you have two chances to negotiate and more time to convince your boss.

6. Research different training providers

You get what you pay for when it comes to training and certification. Cheaper training may not utilise official curriculum or instructors and training days may be spread over weeks or months.

If your organisation requires you in the office, consider intensive or boot camp style training which aims to get students skilled and certified, with minimal time out of the office.

Krishna Williams, Senior Consultant at Firebrand Training, says: “I’ve found it essential to communicate the value of boot camp training upfront. The longer your staff are out of the office, the less time they’ll spend progressing critical projects. This will almost always cost the organisation more in the long term.”

You should also consider when the best time is to attend the training. If your manager can’t lose you for several days, consider training over the weekend.

Your boss might still flinch at you being out of the office for any amount of time, but with smart planning, training over the weekend will minimise this friction. By sacrificing your weekend you’ll also prove your commitment to improving your skills.

Take note of where your training provider is based and what travel expenses you may incur. It’s not wise to surprise your manager with an extra bill, so have every cost itemised and ready before you make your case.

7. Consider your team

If you manage other people, this is a good time to consider whether they should also receive training. This will show you’re not just after the certification to progress your career, but also care about the business benefits.

Cost-savings can be gained by training multiple members of staff at once. If your team needs training, it may be cheaper and easier to organise private or on-site training which can offer savings over public courses.

8. You don’t need a week off work

Many project management certifications can be achieved quickly. For example, PRINCE2 certifications are quick to complete, ranging from 20-50 hours for the Foundation level.

And, if you’re looking to get qualified fast, there are a number of training providers that will bundle multiple certifications with the exams included.

What are you waiting for?

To secure funds for your project management certification you’ll first have to demonstrate the value of the certification. Following these simple steps will go a long way in ensuring that you receive this important training with the support of your business.

5 Effective Project Management Methodologies and How to Apply Them

It’s no secret that in the project management industry, project failure is a recurrent problem.

Complex in origin, prevalent project failure can be attributed to many different sources, from companies enforcing overly optimistic project deadlines to inadequate project management.

As a project manager, there isn’t much you can do to change the outside factors affecting your project, but you can mitigate their effects on your project, and give your project the best chance of success through proper project management.

An effective method to streamline and structure your project management processes is by following a formal project management methodology. A Project Management methodology is essentially a model that Project Managers follow for the design, planning, and implementation of their projects. There isn’t one ‘best’ project management methodology to use as each of them comes with their advantages and disadvantages.

The worst thing any Project Manager can do is become too complacent in a single project management methodology and try to apply that same methodology to every project. Often project management methodologies are as idiosyncratic as each project and trying to force your favorite methodology onto every project, just because you’ve had a row of successes with it, can be as much of a recipe for disaster as not using a methodology at all.

It’s wise that in the planning stages of your project, to thoroughly assess the relative merits of each methodology against the requirements and objectives your project. Adaptability is a core competency for any project manager, even if a methodology doesn’t suit your project exactly, many are flexible enough to adapt to a specific project and project team.

Following is the list of the five most popular project management methodologies used today, and when they are most effective.

Waterfall Project Management

Waterfall project management is one of the more traditional project management methodologies. Utilizing a structure that fits its name, waterfall project management follows things through sequentially, beginning with the concept all the way from project inception to completion and conservation. As such, the project requirements defined at the outset often bear little or no alteration.

Waterfall methodology is most often applied to large software development projects as thorough planning and predictability are paramount to the project process and success.

Agile Project Management

Agile and Waterfall are at the opposite ends of the project management methodology spectrum. Whereas waterfall is sequential and predictable, agile project management works on the premise of adaptability and reacting to regular feedback whether from a client or team member.

Agile project management is best utilized when a project requires constant input from the client or management, as this often results in flexible requirements and role responsibilities. It’s most popular with smaller projects or projects with fast paced development schedules.

Critical Chain Project Management

In opposition to both Waterfall and Agile Project Management, Critical Chain Project Management focuses more on rectifying resource problems. As part of Critical Chain Project Management, each project is deconstructed into a core set of elements that create a project timeline. Within this timeline, it is made sure that enough resources are allocated to the critical chain, as well as simultaneously splitting the remaining resources to other tasks to ensure they can operate parallel, and ensuring that there are still enough resources left over in case reassignment is necessary.

Critical chain is useful for teams that either has plenty of resources or enough flexibility within their team’s skill sets to allow a resource driven project plan.


Project management is never one to shy away from a good acronym, and PRiSM is one of the most well-known. Meaning, when broken down, Projects integrating Sustainable Methods, PRiSM was developed by GPM Global to create a sustainably driven methodology that could adequately consider environmental factors, as well as act as an efficient, large-scale, project structure.

Unique, as it is one of the only project management methodologies that requires accreditations, PRiSM is largely used within real estate development or construction projects that may be problematic for the environment it is situated within.


PRINCE2 is touted as a government endorsed project management methodology and is used as the industry standard across much of the private and public sector in the UK and beyond. PRINCE2, is one of the only other methodologies, alongside PriSM, which requires certification. However, PRINCE2 offers a multitude of courses that are scalable to both your experience and the level of organization the project requires.

Extremely process oriented, requiring each stage of the project to follow its plan and system of processes, PRINCE2 is one of the most complex, yet thorough, methodologies. Due to its vast approach, and its focus on building a range of strong project management skills and applications, PRINCE2 is workable in the majority of project situations.

The 10 Most Common Project Management Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

If you find yourself repeatedly failing to meet essential project deadlines or KPI’s, you might be making one, or more, of these very common project management mistakes.

Making an error in the workplace is inevitable. In fact, there’s a high probability many of us have made the same mistakes, and while at the time it can feel like an utter disaster it is the ability to recoup and learn from our failures that ultimately makes us better at our jobs.

Unfortunately, as project managers, even our smallest mistakes can have much larger implications further down the line, sending us over budget and past deadlines. Although each project will have its complex set of issues unique to it alone, across the industry there are some predictable and recurring factors we can address, that often doom a project to failure before it is gotten off the ground.

1. Assigning the Wrong Person to Lead the Project

Too often candidates are determined to lead projects due to factors other than their suitability or experience. Not that a lack of workplace experience cannot be made up of other factors, but taking charge of running a project is a difficult task, and often requires specific experiential skills or knowledge.

While it is true that skilled managers can lead across subject matters, for large scale projects with complex attributes, a greater number of team members, or a targeted technical knowledge requirement, it is much better to source the most experienced leader, rather than just the one who’s available.

Place as large a focus on assigning the correct manager for the job as you usually do to allocate resources, and place a higher priority on choosing a manager whose skill set more closely matches the project requirements.

2. Lack of Communication

Communication is essential in every relationship, but never more so than when between you and your project team. Not communicating properly, or at all, with your team and client, is one of the quickest ways to send your project to the grave.

By creating a culture of open communication, and setting out some simple communication strategies from the outset, such as regular check-ins and deliverable reviews, you and your team will have a clear view on your projects progression, and be able to proactively spot and resolve any issues coming up on the horizon.

Similarly, by engaging better with your team, you can keep your client in the loop with real-time project updates and avoid the awkward due date deliverable talk.

3. Mismanaging Team Members Skillsets

As important as it is to choose the right leader for the project, it is equally as important to choose the right team members and to take the time to understand exactly how their particular skillsets will fit into the larger scope of your project.

An excellent project manager analyses the project needs and utilizes his team in agreement with their strongest attributes.

If you do not have the luxury of handpicking a team to suit the project, then be sure to you sit down with your team before you begin and discuss their experience and competencies. Don’t be afraid to get specific. It is not enough to just know one of your team members has experience in web developing, filter out their specific disciplinary strengths and weaknesses and optimize their workload accordingly.

4. Too Broad a Scope

Anyone who’s been in the business long enough has experienced a project with a scope that appears to increase continually, while the price remains stagnant. Although this kind of scope creep where the project focus changes continuously over the length of the project should be in no way viewed as an inevitable part of the project process.

Scope creep often happens when the real outcome of the project is misunderstood by or is not consistent with the client, management, and the project team. This is why developing a clear scope statement at the outset of your project is so important.

A carefully thought out scope statement should include a clear and firm definition of the project goal, deliverables, what is both “in” and “out” of scope, and project constraints. Simultaneously, you must develop a system of strict, universal and well-documented approval processes so that any subsequent changes to scope, budget, schedule, resources, and risk are vetted and approved.

The scope statement should regularly be referred to for making future project decisions, and outlining a shared understanding of the project, and should never be created in isolation, but instead with the input of your entire team. Not only will they have knowledge, experience and valuable insights, but they will then be more aware of how and when to implement the process throughout the project

While it is true that project scope must have some degree of malleability placing checks and balances against changing any aspect of the scope allows you to make more considered decisions and control of rampant scope creep.

5. Over-Optimistic Scheduling

The importance of creating a realistic schedule for your team, and the project, cannot be understated.

It is too easy to create an over-optimistic schedule designed to impress the client but is completely infeasible. Not only is the probability of finishing the project with an acceptable, quality product very unlikely, but attempts to meet these dates will cause unnecessary stress for both you and your team, schedules to slip and throw your whole project out of whack.

The project schedule directs the project team on the what and when of their actions. For your client, it projects significant milestones and the due date of key deliverables, as such, it is important that you treat the creation of your schedule as a collaborative effort.

By checking in with your team on project effort and time estimates, and your clients own schedule, you can strike a compromise by which to meet your client’s expectations, and your team has the breathing room to finish the project to a high quality.

6. Lack of Detail in the Project Plan

A project plan is one of the essential elements of a successful project outcome, yet the most misunderstood when it comes to project management.

A project plan does not just mean ‘project timeline.’ While an expected chronology of your project is a major component of your plan, a project plan requires a much deeper level of information regarding all elements necessary to the planning process from the specification of the new project to the budget, schedule, and quality metrics.

When done correctly, a project plan acts your very own route planner. By providing insufficient detail in your project plan, you are not only opening your team for confusion about the full requirements of their time or tasks but leaving yourself without clearly defined metrics to measure the success of your project and management strategies.

Take the time before you start your project to identify all the activities and related tasks required to meet the project’s scope statement successfully and all your project deliverables including the estimated time duration and the assignment of a resource that will be held responsible for completing each task. Keep in mind, that the plan you make at the start may not be the one you finish with, but learning to create a clear project plan and knowing how to discuss its key components is crucial to your project’s success.

7. Not Recognizing Your Team’s Successes

Team morale and productivity go hand in hand, and refusing to recognize your team’s successes, often has a detrimental effect on both. Sometimes it is too easy to focus on the end game, metrics, and numbers, and forget the employee that pushed them to success.

The small successes, the short-term objectives, and daily goals, any extra effort to contribute to advancing the team’s mission is, where the individual shines, and should be celebrated.

Develop a performance review system as part of your project management plan, and ensure that performance on projects is measured, reviewed and recognized as equally as it is in their day to day responsibilities.

8. The Wrong Project Structure Used

Project management is not one size fits all, and while you may have had great success with a particular project structure before, it is dangerous to get too comfortable with one approach and ignore each project’s variables.

Let’s take size, project teams with a larger number of individuals, around 8 or above, will find it difficult to report to the same project manager. Just as, you, the project manager will find it overly challenging to maintain communication and follow ups with too many team members reporting directly to you. If parts of the project are undertaken in different regions of the country, communications may suffer from a lack of clarity and jar with the larger project structure.

It is key to assess each project individually and adapt communication strategies and reporting protocols to suit each new approach.

It may be useful to educate yourself and your team in umbrella project management methodologies that teach adaptable, industry standard project structures, so each project structure retains an efficient cohesiveness and familiarity.

9. Being Reactive Instead of Proactive

Your project is running correctly, aligning with your scope and project plan, but then something unexpected comes along and disaster hits. The project gets derailed. Even though you and your team mobilize quickly, identifying the best options and solutions based on experience, you have got no opportunity, nor time, to test these solutions viability. Acting reactively, management by crisis only leaves your project vulnerable to further failure.

Risk Management is the process of identifying, analyzing and responding to risk factors throughout the life of a project, and developing a stable basis for decision making in regards to those risks. A robust risk assessment provides controls for possible future events and is proactive rather than reactive.

While it is impossible to know every likelihood of every potential occurrence, by undertaking a thorough risk assessment before you execute your project plan, and continuously re-focusing that assessment throughout your project, you can reduce the likelihood of a disastrous event occurring, as well as its impact.

10. Being Resistant to Change

Although most this article has been spent pontificating about the importance of preparedness, clarity, and structure, the ability to be flexible and adaptive are qualities intrinsic to your project’s success.

Despite your extensive risk management and project planning, it’s likely the functionality of your project is going to change daily, whether it’s the small things such as missed meetings, employee absence, or a change in direction that requires you to develop a new approach or resource, and being rigid about your processes only ensures that your project is unlikely to see completion.

Being flexible isn’t something you can plan for. Remember that your project is an ongoing process, keep an open mind, and trust that you and your team will be competent enough to come up with a suitable solution.