Given the challenging economic environment, banking programmes that require large influxes of cash are more likely to come under greater scrutiny. Demands for better control and increased transparency are prominent. Leadership teams in banks need to know that the programmes they are investing in will deliver - and a sound programme structure is fundamental to ensuring this.
Programmes without structure run the risk of being poorly managed, creating silos and leading to functions hiding behind budgets and planning schedules. Lack of structure can also lead to conflicts between workstreams, all driving to realise self-serving benefits and thereby neglecting the long term goals set out for the programme.
Ironically, too much structure and bureaucracy could lead to the same. Furthermore, well run programmes may fall under criticism of spending early or running over when these actions could potentially lead to securing long term value. It’s all about finding the right balance, a balance that banks seem to always struggle with.
The most common issues faced by programmes are quite often directly linked to the lack of a solid governance structure. This cascades down and serves as a source to other issues such as low stakeholder engagement, a lack of visibility and communication, and the poor management of risks, issues and change across programmes.
The question remains, how can we ensure that the structure of a programme is set-up for success?
1.Make sure the right governance is in place
Major review points or ‘stage-gates’ in a programme require careful planning. In order for the right topics to be discussed in the right forums, at the right time, the layers between a programme board and workstreams need to be carefully designed.
An unfortunate reality is the possibility of personal goals and objectives overshadowing the programme objectives, subsequently impacting the programme outcomes and benefits. As such, governance requires an in-depth understanding of the motivations and pressures of all significant stakeholders. It also requires an engaging, not easily influenced and challenging attitude that can foresee potential conflicts and/or behavioural clashes. Governance is not restricted to compliance and must be approached from both a ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ perspective; clearly articulating the framework and then understanding the actors and drivers within it.
2.Set the standard
Making sure there is a defined programme standard for project management activities is vital to a programme’s success. A programme ‘best practice’ provides the necessary foundation for consistency, guidance and a common approach.
When working in an environment with a high turnover and SMEs (subject matter experts) from different backgrounds, a “ways of working” guide setting out the requirements for all programme players means that delivery will not suffer from turnover-related delays or severe knowledge gaps at any point in time.
3.Plan realistically, track and adapt
A healthy programme is dependent on a central plan that is adhered to by all workstreams. It is important that all programmes in banking of any complexity have an approved plan with specific authorisation points at which the business case is reviewed against and approved.
It is extremely important to ensure plans are designed to realistic timescales, and that they are continuously tracked and revised throughout the programme lifecycle.
Often, planning is considered to be an obvious and simple task. However, in reality, most programmes will either slip or fail due to an inefficient tracking mechanism. Regardless of size or scope, it is crucial that there is a central body that tracks progress continuously and independently. One suggestion is to agree on a single planning tool which the entire programme will have access to and train on. It is nearly impossible for everyone to approve of a single tool, but it is important that all key planners know how to use the mandated tool of choice.
4.Celebrate successes and address weaknesses
Celebrating successes and addressing weaknesses are sometimes overlooked on complex programmes. But they are actually vital for the maturity of a programme. Highlighting what the programme has done well, and identifying what the programme can do better, help facilitate thought leadership around how delivery can be improved.
It is often the case that programmes will suffer from making the same mistakes throughout their lifecycle, and this can only be prevented if ‘lessons learned’ are captured, shared and revisited over time. Celebrating successes will increase the programme morale and encourage teams to realise their potential.
5.Identify the risk, and deal with the issue
Ironically, programmes are anecdotally good at dealing with risks, but not so much with issues. We see risk spelled out in capital letters on long email chains along with their potential mitigations. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case for issues, even if they are already having an impact on the programme. One of the key challenges with managing issues is to resolve the problem quickly and then move on, with as little impact to the programme as possible.
There are different frameworks that could be used to manage risk and they probably will all work in principle, but it all falls down to accountability. Is the programme governance holding the risk owner accountable for their risk or issue? Are regular reviews and plan of actions being set and followed up? These are the things that we think make for effective decision making when issues or risks arise. It is not just about the framework model, it is about the behaviours. This is what makes the framework work effectively.
In summary, there is no secret to successful delivery whether in banking or other sectors, however, great value can be derived from ensuring the right governance structure is in place, promoting the right behaviours and setting the tone from the start. A sound and adaptable governance structure is extremely important, but it will only work when coupled with the right attitude.