Programme Management and EastEnders – you can’t “soft soap” best practice

Two programme managers in hard hats and hi-vis vests stand at entrance of warehouse containing large and wide metal tubes on the floor

What are the factors that make a strategic programme work? a question that might have helped the set rebuild project of the BBC’s flagship soap opera in the UK, “EastEnders”.

The UK Government’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently published a report into the transformation programme, referencing the “multi-million pound overspend” of public money and a delivery delay of almost five years.

While not, by definition, a failure (because it will be completed and provide benefits, although later than planned) the PAC alleges the management of this transformation programme “underestimated” its “scale and complexity”, was “complacent”, didn’t have the right construction project management skills in place and didn’t recognize the strategic importance of EastEnders to the BBC.

So what lessons can be learned from this and how can adopting best practice, such as Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®), ensure a better outcome?

Transformation = strategic

From the start of creating something transformational, you need to recognize that what you’re aiming to do is strategic and needs to be run as a programme . If it’s large and significant, then you need to define what it is. In the EastEnders case, we are talking about a major transformation programme that included many projects concerning the soap opera’s set as well as the studios at the BBC Elstree centre.

Once you’ve done that, you need a proof of concept. One example of this in the EastEnders case was aging the brickwork on the new set. For this you need to know how the bricks will be aged, what supplier can do that, when and what it will cost.

Therefore, you involve procurement and invite suppliers to understand the vision and come back with ideas and costings. This is not a quick process, so you need to build in sufficient time in the scope and feasibility stage and map out what you need to do: finding suppliers, meeting them and assessing their ability to deliver. And you need a pilot scheme to establish a proof of concept.

Business analysis

In the EastEnders example the PAC report questioned the relationship between the programme delivery team and the film unit itself. This issue is about the ability to work with stakeholders and understand their expectations.

Recognizing the strategic importance of a change programme means you need to have a programme board in place to give the activity the required level of intensity.

Something so business-critical needs proper planning and delivery. Therefore, the blueprint in MSP provides a model for the future which states what the programme should contain to get you where you want to go. Equally, you need to capture lessons as you progress to build capability based on past experience. MSP enshrines this in its “learn from experience” approach.

Mitigating risk

Going back to the EastEnders programme, its costs were affected by inflation in the construction industry. This type of potential problem should be anticipated in the “risk register”, which helps to predict costs more accurately and the programme can seek and allocate additional budget.

Programme delays – in the EastEnders case, nearly five years – are mitigated by having the right people in the programme at the right time to formulate your plan, plus regular catch-ups to forecast what’s happening, to anticipate delays and minimize them.

But what about the accusation of “complacency”, which the BBC “strongly reject”?

Considering what the PAC report has identified, maybe (and we can only speculate) it was a question of confidence rather than complacency in this instance. That’s why having a best practice framework – as well as providing well-established and tested techniques and approaches – instils confidence in people responsible for major, strategic programmes.

Read more AXELOS blog posts from Allan Thomson

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