Demystifying Programme Management: Clearing common misconceptions

Demystifying Project and Programme Management: Clearing the Common Misconceptions 


Programme management is easy, right? Work out what you want to do, build a plan and execute it.  How hard can it be? And yet, so many initiatives fail to deliver or experience serious delays and cost overruns. Just look at the news on HS2, NHS hospital builds and IT system implementations. 



At Project One, we have worked side by side with our amazing customers to make a real difference and to deliver many transformations, made up of a whole variety of complex programmes and individual projects. We know how to do this and thought we would share the top 10 misconceptions that we see that can lead to delivery failure. 



#1 You can dive straight into delivery


In at the top, and easily the most common of misconceptions is the thought that once you have the idea on what’s needed, you can just dive into delivery and get it done. Maybe in a very small organisation with no other change happening then this might work. But usually this will end in a lack of progress, confusion and ultimately failure. It is critical to take the time to mobilise effectively, understanding how this change fits into the priority stack of everything else going on and how all parts of your business will be impacted. You need to build a roadmap and line up all resources and set the delivery up for success. This stage can take several months for a complex transformation.



#2 Anyone can sponsor the change


The change then must be business led. And this doesn’t mean telling the already overly busy COO that they are the sponsor and letting them dip in every few weeks, chairing a steering committee and banging the desk when things are delayed. Strong and effective business sponsorship is an art, that requires a vision to be set and shared across the organisation. It requires an inspirational and adaptable approach that will get the whole business behind the change, and it requires someone who has the time and experience to do this in the right way.



#3 You just need to follow the plan


Another common thought is that once you’re into delivery, it’s just about following the plan and pushing teams forward to hit all those milestones along the way. This rarely happens, especially in programmes of transformational change. The programme manager must keep pace with changes to the business landscape and deal with unforeseen circumstances and must be able to flex the plan and have the experience to know how to manage this.



#4 Governance is boring


Next, programme governance comes into play. “Governance is boring”. “These Steering meetings are a waste of my time”. Again, common misconceptions. Making the right decision at the right time, powered by a single version of programme truth is critical to success. The programme management skill is to firstly get this data right and at the right level and then to get the right stakeholders warmed up and involved so the right calls are made.  Lots of “rights”, and not easy to do!



#5 Size matters


Actually, it doesn’t! All of this good discipline is required whatever the size or complexity of the project. Don’t lose it, just scale it appropriately. I recently worked with an equipment hire company helping to implement a better CRM environment. A small project, but still with an adaptable plan and an efficient level of governance.



#6 Just get more people on the team


We’ve heard many times that the answer is to just throw more resource at the problem and sometimes this might help, but a much better answer is to increase the efficiency of resource allocation and to make sure the resource you do have is of the right level of expertise. Given that organisations rarely go through multiple transformations, this may mean going externally for the expertise required.



#7 Flog your suppliers and you’ll go faster


Talking of external help, another misconception is that suppliers should be constantly ‘whipped’ to get the most out of them! A partnership approach is much more effective, forming ‘one team’ and getting everyone to leave their badges at the door. Aligning objectives is a must and making sure there are common incentives to deliver. Also remember that there will be multiple activities on your side of the fence that need to be covered to enable suppliers to deliver, so again the right capability in your team is essential.



#8 Micromanagement will get results


As well as collaborating with suppliers, there must be collaboration and communication across all teams involved.  Programme management is not all about control and management – it’s about great leadership, extracting the best from everyone and inspiring people to go above and beyond. If a programme manager is in micromanagement mode, then the delivery is doomed!



#9 Everyone will just accept the change


The final two misconceptions in our top 10 are around the areas impacted by the change. We have often seen project teams just thinking that the business areas will have to accept any new ways of working or new systems, because this is a key, priority project. It takes more than that. Programme management is about wining the hearts and minds of the impacted people and making them want to change, with continual communication, involvement and again, leadership.



#10 Deliver the programme and the benefits will follow


All programmes are done for a reason, but so many fall short of thinking that the benefits need to be actively realised. It’s a must do to make sure the benefits are understood and signed-up to up-front by the relevant business areas and it also helps if they are then baked into operational plans. The programme should actively manage these on and beyond initial implementation and make sure that the investment made is actually paying off.



So, there you have it – 10 things to think about if you’re embarking on a programme or project of change.


If you would like to discuss any of this or get some wider advice on how to set your transformation up for success, then please contact 


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