Are we nearly there yet?
How many times has your programme reached a major milestone, a key date, a point where the programme is ready to effect a major change, and you convene a ‘go/no go’ meeting with your stakeholder group to agree you’re ready to press the button? How often do you find yourself facing a barrage of questions before you get agreement to proceed – Has this been done? What about that? How do we know this thing is ready, or that thing isn’t going to break?
While the programme manager can look at the plan and know all the tasks have been executed so ‘of course we’re ready’, stakeholders can be a challenging bunch, each with their own worry list that they want to tick off for themselves before they are satisfied. The worst thing that can happen in a go/no go situation is that a stakeholder thinks of something that the programme hasn’t considered or dealt with, with the consequence that the programme has to pause while the ‘something’ gets addressed to the satisfaction of the stakeholder team.
Think about ‘readiness criteria’
So, what can a diligent programme manager do to minimise the risk of the programme being derailed like this at the last minute? The trick is ‘readiness criteria’. Early in the delivery lifecycle, the programme manager should develop a list of key tasks, deliverables and outcomes that must be complete before the business and the programme are ready to proceed to the next phase; typically, these will be captured into a spreadsheet, with a reference, RAG status, owner and stakeholder verifier, and then the list should be reviewed with the stakeholders to make sure it represents everything they are expecting to see. If your programme has multiple projects or workstreams, make sure you have criteria representing all workstreams; you don’t need hundreds of lines, but 5-10 criteria per workstream is a good target so you have a few tens of criteria for your programme as a whole.
As the programme moves through the final few months and weeks, review the readiness criteria regularly with your sponsorship group or steering board and report on the progress against the criteria. This keeps everyone focussed on what the programme has already agreed are the important criteria for the programme to have delivered. A RAG status is good, as are a few graphs or charts showing that the programme is closing criteria off at a steady rate; this builds confidence in the stakeholder team that all the key criteria are being met, and that the programme is indeed on course to complete on time.
Simplifying the go/no go decision
When the big day comes and you produce your evidence that the programme is ready to proceed to the next stage, your readiness criteria and reporting provides a ready-made body of evidence that you are indeed ready to go. You had previously agreed the criteria that had to be completed, you have tracked and reported progress against meeting these criteria, and the go/no go discussion can be as simple as showing all criteria have been met. There doesn’t need to be much discussion about whether everything is done and you can proceed, the evidence is clear and objective and the go/no go decision almost makes itself.
This process can be as simple or as complex as the programme needs it to be. For complex programmes where evidence of completion of particular activities or deliverables is all-important, the programme can capture this evidence – approvals, email confirmations, signed-off documents etc. – and even hyperlink from the readiness tracker to the evidence itself. Similarly, not all criteria are made equal, and sometimes there is a good argument for prioritising criteria or even weighting it. This means that if not all criteria are met, if the outstanding items are medium or low priority then this may not be sufficient to hold up the programme. A strong argument to proceed can be built around the high priority activities having been completed, with a small number of medium or low priority activities being deferred (maybe to a later phase) or completed shortly after the milestone; this approach affords the business and senior stakeholders the opportunity to exercise their discretion at key decision points.
Readiness criteria – your way to show your sponsorship group that your programme has arrived safely.
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