Looking beyond the technology – Three steps to optimize your investment in a program management solution

December 3, 2020

Key Points

  • Program management solutions are often introduced to replace or automate work in offline office tools, with a desire to minimize disruption outside of the program management team
  • While this approach can provide benefits to the program management team, it misses opportunities to realize the full value of the solution
  • We recommend three steps to realize additional value through a more comprehensive approach to implementation:
  1. Build an “art of the possible” vision
  2. Simplify with out-of-the-box capabilities
  3. Experiment with a pilot

A Bit of History

In the late 19th century industrialization was already well underway in much of the developed world while electricity was still in its relative infancy.  Factories relied on large steam engines to power their machines – with a complicated network of belts and shafts transmitting energy from the single engine to the machines throughout the factory. The layout of the factory was largely dictated by paths of these belts and shafts – and workers were subject to the inherent danger of high-speed belts being snaked throughout their working space.  The factories benefited from the automation that the steam engine provided, but there were tradeoffs due to the lack of flexibility in factory layouts and danger to workers.

Eventually, electricity made its way into the factory.  One would think that this immediately led to vast efficiency and safety gains, as the complicated network of belts and shafts could be eliminated by powering machines with their own, local electric motors.  And this is where we eventually ended up.  However, there was a step in-between – where the single, large steam engine was simply replaced by a single, large electrical motor and the complicated network of belts and shafts were still intact!  So, while some benefits were realized by these early implementations (electrical motors were less complicated, cheaper, and cleaner than the steam engines) the full benefit of a safer, more efficient factory floor had not yet been achieved.

This pattern is repeated throughout history as new technologies are introduced as a direct analogue to their predecessor.  Computing technology, the internet, and similar transformations were delayed (or stymied) in providing their full benefits as initial implementations simply replaced existing manual work.  This process is frequently repeated on a smaller scale within organizations as well, as new tools are brought in without addressing broader organizational, procedural, and cultural implications.

Application to Program Management Solutions

We see similar behaviors when a new program management solution is introduced.  Teams are excited to reap the benefits that it provides for streamlining and automating their current work but fail to address how they can restructure their teams, processes, and reporting.

This approach misses significant value.  Executive stakeholders miss out on a real-time view of the data, which they can drill into and explore without requiring multiple PowerPoint reports.  Program management teams are still stuck collecting and entering project updates on their own rather than delegating responsibilities to initiative owners.  And much of the program management team’s effort is still focused on the mechanics of delivering the program and communicating status rather than proactively addressing risks and optimizing delivery. At Amplify, our experience is that clients who embrace a broader view of how our solution can support their organization deliver more value.  For example, a program management team who used Amplify to capture updates directly from initiative and benefit leads repurposed 80% of their resources that had been focused on data admin tasks.  Additionally, we support teams where leaders use Amplify for real-time reporting of program data and have accelerated the time needed to identify and address issues from months to days.

Of course, there are tradeoffs to consider:  Executive stakeholders are comfortable with viewing PowerPoint reports that are emailed or presented in biweekly checkpoints.  Initiative owners can lapse in their updates or may not provide the required vetting before entering data.  Additional rollout and training is required to engage a broader set of stakeholders.  However, these hurdles can be mitigated through numerous means (e.g., solution implementation, approval processes, training) and should not serve as grounds for rapidly rejecting a broader implementation.

Designing a Better Implementation

Every implementation of a program management solution is different.  However, there are some simple steps teams can take to capture additional value:

Build the “art of the possible” vision

An aspirational vision will guide teams in identifying how the program management solution can improve efficiency, effectiveness, and timeliness. Start by defining guiding principles, such as:

  • Everyone has access to the same “single source of truth” for data in real-time
  • Reporting across all levels (executive through initiative lead) is provided instantaneously, on-demand
  • Program management team does not perform admin tasks (e.g., report creation, data entry)

Next, think about the user journeys that would coincide with these guiding principles.  How would executives interact with the solution for real-time reporting?  How would initiative leads manage their initiatives, from end-to-end, directly in the solution?  What would the program management team be able to deliver without being burdened with day-to-day data entry and report creation?  This informs the design of the future-state operating model.

Simplify with out-of-the-box capabilities

One key reason teams struggle to realize the full potential of their program management solutions is a hesitance to disrupt external stakeholders.  There is a desire to keep reporting against the same metrics, in the same format, with the same cadence.  Similarly, status updates are collected the same way they always have been, with a program management team member tasked with the burden of translating the updates into the tool input.  Program management solutions such as Amplify provide a wide range of reporting and data input formats, based on years of experience supporting thousands of business stakeholders. We recommend that teams use the introduction of a program management solution as an opportunity to revisit these reporting and data collection processes, with the goal of leveraging out of the box reporting and data inputs as the default.  This can be accomplished via targeted workshops where teams start by addressing the purpose of specific reports – what is the data that stakeholders need to understand the program status and what actions to take?  Does the tool provide this information in a format that can be used?  Similar workshops can be held with initiative leads to understand how data should be captured – how are the initiative leads accessing the data themselves, and how does this translate into the tool input?  Ideally these sessions are run with a clean sheet to minimize anchoring to current processes.

Experiment with a pilot

Advanced program management tools such as Amplify provide flexibility to support a variety of operating models, even within a single transformation program.  Once you have defined your ideal operating model you can pilot the updates within a specific workstream or set of initiatives.  This allows you to refine your approach without disrupting the broader program and provides real data points to understand whether it makes sense to roll out the changes.  Is the program management team more focused on achieving targets?  Are stakeholders able to adapt to and leverage the new reporting capabilities?  Are initiative owners reliably entering their status data?  Proving that delivery quality can be enhanced with less effort goes a long way towards getting additional workstreams on board.

In Closing

Going back to our history lesson, we are encouraging you to remove the belts and shafts.  By exploring how program management solutions can transform your team, we feel you can focus on value delivery and provide a better experience for your program stakeholders.  As always, our team at Amplify welcomes your feedback and is happy to help you get started on your journey.

For Additional Reference

Software Culture Shock: When New Application Adoption Fails: https://martinedic.medium.com/software-culture-shock-when-new-application-adoption-fails-1f67ebb652f2 Delegation: the 30% solution: https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/delegating-work-with-new-mindset-9912

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