Why Program Design is Essential

Importance of Program Design

Never underestimate the importance of design when managing major organizational change and improvement; programmes remain the most effective framework for achieving success. The level of complexity and risk involved in shifting an enterprise into a new phase of development and operation – and the associated investment – means the process has to be managed properly and improvement measured.

In respect to the demands of society changing, with people wanting things better and faster and the new normal which has been dictated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Change now happens continually and organizations need enterprise agility – the capability to pivot in response to their environment. And, in a typical programme timeframe of three to five years, a lot can happen.

This is why the design phase of a programme is so critical to get right and where a best practice approach provides the necessary level of focus and rigour.

Traditionally, programme design has been neglected. Without designing the programme properly it’s likely to fail and potentially waste a lot of money in the process. Therefore, there simply shouldn’t be any debate – design is compulsory.

This will set up the programme up for success by installing the building blocks for delivering the benefits, managing associated risks, and creating what an organization will look like in the future.

Managing Successful Programmes highlights four aspects of programme design:

  • Vision
  • Benefits
  • Target operating model (the new, future state of the organization)
  • Risk identification and prioritization

As each of these programme elements are happening simultaneously, they must be integrated. If not, the nightmare scenario is a target operating model that doesn’t align with the vision, affecting the adoption of the change and reducing the expected benefits.

Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle: the image on the box is the future state or vision being built; the individual pieces are contained inside the box and, when put together, they deliver on the original promise (in programme terms, the target operating model).

The vision reflects the future state of the organization; something that everyone needs to endorse to gain engagement and commitment for the change.

It should be encapsulated in a concise and easily understood vision statement (i.e. jargon-free), outlining why the status quo is not an option. This provides senior management with a driving force for the programme.

Whoever facilitates the vision statement (for example, via a workshop) must ensure it involves the stakeholders affected by the programme and not just the sponsoring group.

What constitutes the move from an organization’s current state to its desired, future state is contained in the target operating model.

The sponsoring group decides what it wants the organization to look like in the future, enabling engagement with the wider enterprise, accessing resources, and guiding the programme team towards delivering the target operating model.

This can cover a range of elements such as technology, knowledge and learning, processes, culture, organization, infrastructure, information, and data.

Another aspect of programme design – the benefits – drive programmes, as their delivery supports the organization’s strategic objectives.

There are two main categories for benefits:

  • Efficiency – obtaining business results with fewer resources and reducing costs
  • Effectiveness – creating better results and improved adaptability.

Creating a “benefits map” establishes the connection between benefits and strategic objectives. Benefits are realized at various points during and after the programme’s lifecycle, with the detailed timing included in the benefits realization plan.

Compared to projects, the scale of potential risk in programmes is far greater.

So, it’s necessary – at programme design stage – to introduce a risk management mindset and approach. Without it, the programme may not deliver the necessary benefits.

Starting up a programme is highly important and therefore identifying and prioritizing risks from the earliest opportunity. For example, a significant risk might be the capacity and capability of the organization to undertake the programme at all. To mitigate that risk might involve recruiting more suitably qualified people.

Managing programme risk effectively requires a plan for how to mitigate the risk and then checking and acting on what has been identified.

What should programme managers and their stakeholders expect from focusing on programme design?

It gives them a structure that creates confidence to deliver what the stakeholders require. And, for the stakeholders, they should expect to see the benefits they signed off on day one.

Also, effective programme design feeds into projects: it helps to assess which projects are business-critical, ensures they are created, scheduled properly, and will produce the outputs that lead ultimately to outcomes and benefits.

Ultimately, programme design will ensure that the future state of the organization is clear. This means understanding the gap that will be filled to achieve the future target operating model as well as how to manage the associated benefits and risks. Let us know your approach to programme design, has it helped with your delivery, we would like to hear from you. All the very best on your project management journey.

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