What makes a change programme cost more than it should?

It’s a fact that many change programmes cost more than planned, but it’s just as true that many cost more than they actually need to. If you’re seeing any of the following symptoms, the chances are that you’re spending too much.

1. It’s so slow

Do you feel the programme is “going through the motions”? There’s a plan, meetings are held, people are busy and progress is being reported, but it feels so very slow.

Inject direction and pace by asking:

  • What will the programme achieve this month?
  • What’s the next key milestone?
  • Are we focused on the right things?
  • Are people making the important decisions?
  • Is the team on top of the things that get in the way?

Time is money.

2. It looks like an elephant?

A large and complex change is like an elephant – big, heavy and with a mind of it’s own.

If you’re looking at such an elephant, bring it down to size by chopping it into manageable chunks.

As a simple example, take a massive regulatory programme and divide it into three piles:

  • Things we understand and are important, that we can start delivering now
  • Things we understand but don’t need just yet
  • Things we don’t understand and need to go back to the regulator

Once the programme has been broken down, the elephant become much easier to digest.

3. We’re feeling underwhelmed

Suppliers promise the A-team and what arrives can too often seem like a school bus with a wayward driver.

Challenge your suppliers (and yourselves) hard in this area. They may be bigger than you and they may be experts, but they work for you. Ask:

  • Are they meeting expectations?
  • Were the expectations firm enough to start with?
  • Are we giving them what they need to be successful?
  • Are people on the ground working well together?
  • Are they providing the value-add that we expected?
  • How can things be improved?

It’s a good idea to engage with the supplier outside the programme, looking at the overall relationship in a regular session and asking questions such as these.

Remember, you’re paying them a lot of money.

4. We’re not fielding the right team

All successful programmes have a strong team from top to bottom – setting direction, bringing experience, providing focus, energy and drive. Over-staffing your team with junior people is a false economy. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have the right team to drive this?
  • Have they got the experience needed?
  • Are they clear about what will make this programme succeed (or fail)?
  • Are they driving progress?
  • Am I carrying people I shouldn’t?
  • Am I giving the junior people the right level of support?

Get this right and you’ll have a team that’s on fire – capable of doing anything.

5. Decisions are getting deferred

Imagine a programme with a daily burn rate of around £50k that is spinning wheels awaiting a key decision. It makes you shiver. But it happens all too often. Make sure that:

  • The right people are at the Steering Group
  • Everyone knows what they’re accountable for
  • The decision-makers understand the impact of their decisions, or lack of them

Daily burn of £50k? Decision deferred to next month’s meeting? That’s not inexpensive.

6. Packages are being overly customised

Everyone knows you don’t over-customise a package.

Yet it still happens. Sometimes because people underestimate the cost of making the changes (including ongoing support costs), or find they’ve jumped into delivery without properly understanding what they’ve bought.

If you’re at the start of the journey, try installing the standard package, showing it to the business users, and work out where the package really needs to change.

If you’re well into the journey, try setting a cap on customisation costs and getting the business to prioritise.

Buy the BMW or Mercedes and drive away. Don’t ask the dealer to change the synchromesh to match your old Cavalier.

7. The Programme Office adds little value

If all a Programme Office is doing is undertaking admin activities, it’s adding little or no value. A strong Programme Office is needed to:

  • Keep the overall plan aligned
  • Proactively chase actions
  • Monitor and drive resolution of key issues and risks
  • Keep an eye on key dependencies and contractual obligations

One organisation we talked to had a Programme Office of 5 people, which delivered little value but was tolerated because it was cheap.

Over a year, it cost around £1m and because it failed to provide the right controls around its delivery plan or effective tracking of contracts, it allowed the programme to fail.

Now that’s real money!

8. We’re churning resources

It’s a false economy to churn the full-time, contractors and interim resources to the extent we often see. You lose time, experience and momentum every time you vary the team.

Work out the team you need, give them the tools to succeed, motivate them to give their best and to stay the distance, and lock them in.

9. Boxes are being ticked

You need good governance and effective assurance. They give the programme confidence, and confidence creates pace.

Check that you’re asking the right questions – not making people tick boxes to comply with a process and simply slowing things down? Good questions include:

  • What will make this programme succeed or fail?
  • Do we have an integrated plan that everyone understands?
  • Is the business properly engaged?
  • Does the business case still stack up?

Not so good questions include:

  • When did you last change the risk log?
  • How frequent are the Steering Group meetings?

Be wary of projects reporting into programmes reporting into portfolios reporting into governance groups. That’s a LOT of reporting, checking, and form filling.

And remember, it takes real experience to ask valuable questions.

10. It’s fizzling out

Let’s end with the opposite of where we started. Sometimes things feel as if they’re going too fast. Everyone is busy and things are getting done, but are they the right things?

This often happens when the urge to start overrides the need to be clear on what you’re starting on. You can make a fast start but without the basic in place, it starts to fizzle out. Check you’ve got the basics:

  1. A compelling reason for the change you’re making
  2. A clear and shared vision for that change
  3. The support and commitment of those around you to help make the change a success
  4. A well-planned journey for programme ahead
  5. A team with the experience to successfully make this journey

POSTED BY: James O'Sullivan - Director of consulting services

CONTACT: james.osullivan@projectone.com

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