Fully transparent Program Management ensures that strategic initiatives stay on track, management remains informed, and corrective action, when needed, is quickly approved.
There is a famous scene in the movie “Animal House” in which the marching band is steered down an alley and is crunched against a brick wall, still trying to march.
That scene is an amazing metaphor for many corporate initiatives. Strategic projects get off track, but status reports are scrubbed each time they go up the chain of command. By time reports reach senior leadership, it appears that everything is on track. And then the quarterly results are far below target and everyone is wondering why. In the meantime, the project continues to struggle, like the marching band against the brick wall.
While this may be an amusing and perhaps extreme illustration, it does underscore the need for full transparency in the program management of our action plans.
Projects do get off track. It happens for numerous reasons. Leadership response needs to be supportive and not punitive. Requiring transparency enables rapid identification and approval of corrective action.
This article will provide several tips and techniques for managing the execution of your strategic plan.
The IT Strategic Plan has been transformed into goals and action plans, sometimes referred to as projects or initiatives. We showed in previous articles how to prioritize and assign resources to those projects, and how to align individual performance plans.
Each action plan or project needs a Project Manager. Large, complex projects probably require an experienced, certified Project Manager. Many smaller, less complex projects may have a lighter role for the Project Manager.
Either way, every project will have a set of critical milestones – the deliverables that define the critical path of the project.
Larger projects may have a fully detailed project plan, including critical milestones. Smaller initiatives may only have the critical milestones and will be managed with appropriately less rigor.
An easy way to think about critical milestones is to consider a typical project lifecycle, which applies to IT and non-IT projects. Most projects will include:
- Requirements gathering
- Solution design
- Solution development
- Project completion
Each of these has a specific deliverable, representing the critical path of most projects.
Each Project Manager must report the status of critical milestones to the Program Manager every week. If a critical milestone becomes at risk because its underlying tasks are at risk, the Project Manager must report to the Program Manager immediately and begin identifying options for corrective action.
As the Project Managers complete their project plans, the Program Manager can consolidate the critical milestones from all plans into a single, comprehensive program plan. Many projects will have dependencies on other projects, and the Program Manager tracks those dependencies. If Project A is delayed, it may cause Project B and Project C to be delayed as well. The Program Manager is responsible for tracking these dependencies and guiding project teams and leadership through adjustments to the timing or scope of individual projects.
The Program Manager reports the status of the entire IT Strategic Plan to the CIO and IT Leadership Team every week. I like to use the traffic light system. Each of the critical milestones in every project is either Green (no risk), Yellow (risk with time to mitigate), or Red (missed the time, scope, or budget for a critical milestone, dictating that the project cannot be completed successfully).
For management reporting purposes, if any milestone is yellow, then the project is yellow and if any milestone is red, then the project is red. If there are no yellow or red critical milestones, then the project is green.
The Program Manager can simply list the projects, color coded by their status. A more realistic view would show the domino affect of yellow or red projects by showing dependent projects, linked to the yellow or red projects.
The Executive Sponsor and Project Manager for each project should also by identified on the weekly status report. When a project is yellow or red, the CIO or a member of IT Leadership team should immediately contact the sponsor and the Project Manager to hear their recommendations on corrective action – if the escalation hasn’t occurred already.
This level of transparency offers two significant benefits. First, the CIO and IT Leadership Team can see the status of the entire strategic plan at a glance by seeing the projects that will deliver on the strategy. Second, if any project gets off track, it’s visible within no more than a week, and corrective action can be rapidly approved.
A great, added control that I started using in 2007 is a series of monthly, 15-minute meetings with the CIO, Program Manager, and each project’s Executive Sponsor and Project Manager. Each sponsor and Project Manager comes in for 15 minutes and presents to the CIO and Program Manager, using a standard set of slides. They cannot add or delete slides and they must follow the template.
Think about 10 things that will define the health of each of your projects. What is the status of each critical milestone? How are the project tracking against the goals set out in the strategic plan? Is the resource utilization tracking to the project plan? Is the project on scope and on budget, and expected to stay there?
You can identify the 10 questions that need to be answered for every project.
Again, two significant benefits arise from this exercise. First, the executive sponsors that are not typically engaged will get very engaged when they know they have to report or sit beside the Project Manager that is presenting. Second, any risk and corrective action that has not become evident in the weekly status reports will be very apparent and quickly addressed.
Full transparency in the project and program management of strategic initiatives is absolutely crucial to the achievement of the IT Strategic Objectives.
But there’s one critical process that we’ve not yet discussed in these articles about IT Strategy Management. The next article will discuss the communication plan that wraps around everything in the IT Strategic Planning and Execution process.
As always, if you want to know more, or just can’t wait for the next articles, email Emily at Emily@WolffStrategy.com and she’ll be happy to schedule a call with me.
Larry Wolff is the founder & CEO of Wolff Strategy Partners, a boutique consulting firm specializing in Enterprise Strategy Management and Digital Transformation. Larry has served as CEO, COO, CIO, chief digital officer, and management consultant for public, private, international and emerging growth companies. His specialties include corporate and IT strategic planning, technology led business transformation, business and IT turnarounds, merger integration and large-scale project rescues.