Healthy programme-level conversations

Photo by Michael PardoSometimes a piece of work is so big that it’s quite reasonably called not a “project” but a “programme”. And at the top level of the programme is a group of  senior people (the programme board) who are concerned with its success, but who also are very distant from the detail. The conversations at this level are really important, because those senior people have a great deal of influence, and that may be for good or for ill, depending on how they understand things are going. So what makes a healthy programme-level conversation?

Perhaps more than any other time, this is when a focus on value is essential. People on the delivery levels are deep in the detail, but if disjoint fragments of that detail reach the programme board then the ensuing conversations can be disruptive—the senior people can easily distract the delivery teams with worries that the teams themselves would otherwise be perfectly able to deal with, if only they were able to get on with things. And ultimately members of the programme board are much more likely to want to tell a good story about the programme’s benefits rather than the intricacies of security audits or usability testing. They may want to know about those lower-level things, but their interest will be in the overall value… if it’s put in front of them.

Therefore programme-level reporting and conversations need to be structured accordingly—they need to be structured around value.

Perhaps surprisingly, this can be difficult, because it’s quite common for a programme’s proposed benefits either to be mixed up with the details of the solution, or to become detached from the delivery work. However, this can be solved if there’s a clear link between the value being generated and the work being done. The programme board gets a report centred on the value, and the delivery teams prioritise their work based on what will deliver the most value. The value and the solution are separate, but they’re linked. The programme board can ask hard questions about delivery details, but the starting point is always the value.

Photo by Michael Pardo