How many times have you heard or experienced that a program (or project) would have had a better result if there was more time spent in planning? Sound familiar?
Yet, there’s still room for improvement to move from: “Planning is writing documents” to: “Planning provides clarification on business objectives and the holistic view of what to deliver”.
When we get to broad-based or cross-enterprise initiatives, the planning becomes even more important:
- Due to size, investment and breadth of participation, these initiatives typically have a strategic value to a company
- Collaboration and alignment from cross-Enterprise leaders and program leadership helps maintain focus and resolve any competing priorities
- A holistic business view can be provided for defining measures for initiative progress and benefits realization
- There is a higher chance of identifying the work to be delivered, interdependencies, stakeholder groups and risks.
For those who aren’t yet convinced that planning is essential, consider another aspect. In 2019, Gartner published a press release stating, “Gartner Says 80 Percent of Today’s Project Management Tasks Will Be Eliminated by 2030 as Artificial Intelligence Takes Over”, with the advent of data collection and automation. The trends do not move away from business strategy, communications and leadership as valuable skills for program managers and project managers. In fact, good planning reinforces these skills.
How do we go about planning larger initiatives with more stakeholders? The following ideas will resonate with some organizations, others may have the structure and processes established for individual departments only. There is also another group of organizations which may not have the process infrastructure to address such cross-enterprise initiatives.
There are several ways to accomplish this planning. In my experience, the planning should include cross-enterprise collaboration, and can vary in how much time is needed. Maturity of the organization in planning such work, program size, risk, scope, and department/stakeholder involvement are all contributors to the planning approach.
Some of the best collaboration, alignment and identification of what was to be delivered, that I observed, was the result of a facilitated program planning approach. All stakeholder groups requiring involvement were confirmed as participants. The stakeholders clarified and understood each other’s points of view, enhanced each other’s thoughts on what needed to be produced, and ultimately aligned on the program – budget, schedule, scope and risks requiring actions.
Best practices for conducting such a planning session:
- Determine what planning information will be helpful for the group to provide input and align with the result; for example, a Charter, a Communications Plan, a RACI or Program Organization Structure.
- Gather background information about the program to confirm with the Sponsor – business objective / strategy alignment, business case, initial risks and deliverables, etc.
- Validate the program with the Sponsor along with what needs to be accomplished at the end of the session.
- Incorporate a Program overview and a “roll-up the-sleeves” planning session.
- Depending on the maturity of the organization, level set on the definition of a program, how a program is structured, what is defined during planning, and the roles involved in delivering a program.
- Begin the actual program planning. Set the context with the background information. Seek clarification questions, as these may result in program deliverables or benefits not originally considered.
- Facilitate the conversation based on the sections in a Program Charter. Provide examples of what would be included in each section and allow the participants to elaborate.
- Since a program-level schedule is typically comprised of program-level deliverables and its projects (ie, project deliverables are defined within each project), consider a “high touch” approach for drafting the schedule. Using a Gantt chart view on a wall, define the time in post-it notes for each project and for the program-level deliverables. Once complete, have the group review and discuss for interdependencies and key milestones.
- Define the program organization and stakeholder communications plan. Seek input on the key roles in the program and on the types of communications required by stakeholder group.
- Throughout, maintain a Parking Lot and Action Item list. Revisit these at the end and assign to the appropriate parties.
Other ideas are to consider a project within the program dedicated to benefits realization management. Determining what to capture, when, measuring results and adjustments should begin during the program. Similarly, a project dedicated to all stakeholder communications allows for consolidating communications that may arise in various projects for the same stakeholder group.
When the session is complete, the Facilitator or Program Manager should be able to capture the discussion and gain Program Sponsor and Steering Committee approval.
The next step requires the PMs define their detailed plans. They may decide to use a collaborative approach to create a Project Charter and/or cross-group schedule detailing the project deliverables.
Use the defined projects to validate against the program level milestones and resolve any discrepancies.
It’s not always possible to gather all participants for the time required to complete program planning. This does not mean the planning should be overlooked. Determine where you need the group together and where you may be able to have individual discussions and aggregate the information. An initial planning session to align on program expectations and outcomes and a final session to review the overall program for interdependencies and clarifications can go a long way to expectation alignment (both within the Program Steering Committee and between the Program Steering Committee and Program Daily Leadership Team) and setting the course of action for the delivery team.