The Seven Cs of Programme Failure

Graphic of teo programme managers discussing their work at table to the right of giant screen with flow chart and other icons and clipboards displaying programme data

There are many reasons why a programme fails. But there are some causes of failure that are common across the majority of troubled programmes. So, let me introduce the seven Cs of programme failure and how they can be addressed using best practice methods such as Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) .

  1. COMMUNICATION
    So many aspects of a programme are often badly communicated. And our programmes (and projects) suffer from poor stakeholder engagement and communications. Understanding the stakeholders, and then developing and delivering a robust yet flexible engagement and communication plan is one of the key responsibilities of programme managers.

     
  2. COMPLEXITY
    Programmes are not simply a bigger version of a project. A programme is a far more complex undertaking that requires an adaptability and agility to be able to respond to the changing circumstances over its lifetime. Programme plans cannot be ‘cast in stone’. Otherwise, the inevitable result is a programme that does not deliver the capability and benefits that the customer requires.
     
    Well-run programmes are inherently agile in order to respond to the uncertain, ambiguous and at times volatile environment that most organizations encounter today.

     
  3. COLLABORATION
    At the most basic level, a programme consists of a number of projects and other activities, all delivering pieces of the ‘jigsaw’. The programme management team must ensure that these pieces are brought together in the correct way. Active fostering of collaboration – within the programme team and with the wider organization including other stakeholders – is essential to programme success. 

     
  4. CAPABILITY
    There can be three types of capability issues on a programme:
    • The organization has unrealistic expectations of its ability to design and deliver a successful programme. This may be because they have not invested in developing that capability, or they are already stretched to the limit delivering other programmes.
    • They overestimate the capability of the organization to adopt the outputs of the programme and make a successful change.
    • The programme does not invest the time to research and develop a picture of the required future capability. In MSP this is called the Blueprint, or the Target Operating Model, and describes the full capability that the organization will require to achieve the programme vision. 
       
  5. CULTURE
    “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote attributed to the writer Peter Drucker. In the context of programme management, it is important to remember that our very best efforts and strategies will almost certainly fail if we do not give the appropriate attention to the prevailing organizational culture.
     
    The challenge of culture is twofold. The first challenge is the need to identify, understand and describe the current culture. The second is to determine how it should be changed. Failing to change a culture that is opposed to the vision of the programme is a sure step towards ultimate failure.

     
  6. C-LEVEL SUPPORT
    Senior management set the cultural tone of an organization, being ‘role-models’ for all employees. And so, the ‘culture change challenge’ is something that they must address.
     
    Furthermore, no programme can succeed without a significant level of support from senior management – the ‘C’ level. One example of this is the key role that MSP identifies of the Senior Responsible Owner. This vital role is ultimately accountable for the programme and must have enough seniority and authority to lead, to take decisions and to drive the programme forward.

     
  7. CONSEQUENCES
    Consequences of programmes can be positive and negative, and some examples are:
    • Resource management – does the organization have the capacity to deliver? Are there any other initiatives that we should stop?
    • Risk management – do we understand the threats to the organization of attempting this programme?
    • Side effects and disbenefits – have we considered what these might be and how we might manage them?
    • Last, but not least, a focus on benefits – the positive, intended consequence of the programme. Are we giving them enough attention? Are we communicating them to all our stakeholders?

By considering and responding to the seven Cs, a programme management team will put itself in a far more positive position and increase the likelihood of programme success.

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