There is only one conversation in a programme

Is there a simple way to ensure a programme of work gets off on the right foot? Sometimes I’m deep within a such programme—it’s already in full swing and it’s my job to be a valuable cog in an already-running machine. But sometimes I’m involved before the programme starts, and I have an opportunity (and responsibility) to ensure it’s set up in the most positive way.

That’s happened a couple of times recently, and in both cases I’ve been conscious my time we senior stakeholders is limited, so I want to ensure my messages are as clear and constructive as they can be. And to that end I’ve found myself using a phrase to reduce all the complexities of programme board structure, communications, goal-setting and so on. That phrase is: “There is only one conversation.”

To be more specific, there is only one thing we should really be talking to each other about in and around the programme board, and that’s about delivering the clearly-defined value of the programme. Everything else—conversations about resourcing, budgets, report templates, board attendance, prioritisation, and so on—are just sub-conversations contributing to the one central conversation.

As part of this, it’s important we have a clear value statement for our programme. We need to make sure the value of the programme (its success measures) is defined unambiguously. In my world that means it has to be measurable. Once we have our success measures our One Conversation always begins the same way: “What have you been doing to make an improvement in our success measures?” And things continue from there: “What are your problems? How can we help you?” And so on.

The conversation should also continue within the programme’s projects. Everyone working on the projects should know what value they are expected to deliver, and of course it should be the same as at the programme level.

Of course, the One Conversation will always require more detail. There may need to be written reports, terms of reference, budget spreadsheets, assurance reviews and much, much more. But these are not ends in themselves. They are all in support of the One Conversation at the programme board, which is about delivering the clearly-defined value of the programme.

Photo by bigbirdz