March 04, 2011
Technology Solution Delivery

Succeeding to Fail

Commonly used industry metrics indicate that over 70% of all technology programs fail.  Do all of these programs come in late or over budget?  Or do some of them finish on time and on budget but fail to deliver what the business really needed to be successful?  A significant portion falls in the latter category begging the question: should IT and the PMO be blamed for delivering programs on time and on budget that fail to deliver the expected business value?  The answer is a resounding NO!

In typical programs, IT and PMO teams are structured to make sure that defined sets of activities are completed on time and on budget causing them to get bogged down in program administration, which by itself does not achieve business value.  Kenway Consulting believes that guiding a program within the framework of bigger picture strategic goals is another job entirely.  Many PMO teams have neither the appropriate skills, nor the structure to maintain focus on meeting business objectives.  Therefore, many programs are successful according to IT and PMO criteria, but fail in the eyes of business sponsors.

Kenway Consulting solves this problem by offering two separate but integrated services:  Technology Project Management and Business Program Management.  Whether you prefer to expand the scope of your PMO to include both services, or establish separate teams that work together is not as important as accepting the fact that both need to be considered in order to make sure that tactical technology decisions are aligned with business objectives throughout the course of a program.  When implementing these services, Kenway Consulting follows 5 best practices:

  • Staff and structure the team(s) appropriately
  • Establish an Executive Sponsorship Group (ESG) to define program success criteria
  • Define business metrics
  • Create a change management and communication plan
  • Partner with IT PMO during program execution to align business choices with technology implementations.

The key resource tasked with ensuring business value is the Business Program Manager, who should be a senior resource comfortable challenging executives when necessary.  This person should not only be well versed in program / project management principles, but also knowledgeable in the business being served.  He / she can be part of the overall PMO or lead a separate team that works closely with the PMO.  Either way the key is that this person is closely aligned with the program’s business sponsors.  The Business Program Manager will first and foremost work with executive business sponsors to establish business success criteria, create the business case including an ROI analysis, and drive change management, deployment and communications work streams.

Once a Business Program Manager is selected, the next step is to establish an Executive Sponsorship Group (ESG) comprised of business executives who will ultimately determine the success or failure of the program.  You will most certainly want to include the person(s) writing the checks for the program, as well as leaders of organizations most impacted, including operations groups needed to help deploy and support the application.  The first goal of this group is to nail down business objectives, which will form the basis of the Business Case.  No matter how much pressure you may receive to show progress, never move beyond the planning phase without clearly understanding the desired business outcomes.   Once the Business Case is complete, technology sponsors will join the ESG to review it and sign off.  The ESG should be no more than 5 to 8 voting members with the Business Program Manager (and IT Program Manager if the role is split) participating as non-voting members.  The Program Manager(s) are responsible for creating ESG meeting content and facilitating the meeting.

Despite the importance of translating business objectives into metrics, this step it is neglected far too often.  If nobody owns the metrics, how can you expect to know if a program is successful?  Therefore metrics ownership falls directly with the Business Program Manager.  To the greatest extent possible, metrics should be quantifiable, simple to understand and easy to capture.  Do not get bogged down if quantifying business objectives becomes too challenging.  Qualitative metrics are OK as long as the ESG understands them, agrees to them and most importantly relies on them as core principles used to guide all future decisions.

The Business Program Manager must also take ownership of the communications and change management plan.  Few things erode ROI more quickly than a lack of change management, yet this step is also often neglected and almost always is considered too late in the lifecycle to be helpful.  Why would you spend millions of dollars to build a system that is not used or is used incorrectly?  Depending on the size of the program, a change management expert may be added to properly drive this work effort, but the Business Program Manager should always be ultimately accountable.

While the Business Program Manager plays a key role in program planning, we must not underestimate the importance of the role once the program transitions into execution phases.  In order to execute properly, the Business Program Manager must bridge the gap between Business and IT to help manage issues and risks and make sure that business sponsors clearly understand the trade-offs involved in making decisions to balance scope, timeline and budget.  In order to deliver the business objectives, the Business Program Manager must maintain a focus on business value to guide the ESG from smart business decisions to tough choices that will certainly arise based on technology questions and constraints.

If you are an IT or PMO leader tired of hollow victories, or a business sponsor ready to finally realize tangible goals from your technology programs, you should establish Business Program Management as a separate discipline and team.  It may take a bit longer to complete the planning phase, but both IT and business partners will be celebrating the victory together in the end!

For more information on Business Program Management, or to schedule a program / project  management assessment, contact us at

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