Programmes are the reason so many projects are deemed to have failed.

Build a dungheap and the insects will come

I just left a meeting where we discussed a large and complex programme of work and my mind kept going back to recent discussions about why projects fail. We have been talking about project managers who stay in the office playing with gantts and charts and PMs who know nothing about their subject matter, but see themselves as traffic coordinators. These are real concerns and they are at epidemic level at least and need to be discussed and resolved.

Take one step back from this discussion,however and place yourself in the average programme office

If the Project manager rarely sees the battlefield, and spends his time constructing fantasy plans without ever checking with reality and assuming that things will stay the same, then imagine how far removed the average programme manager is.
Today I watched just such a Programme manager going through a programme plan and showing the position of each project and of each tranche and giving a thoroughly convincing performance, but based on a few conversations with project managers before I went in, things were not at all like the programme manager’s presentation suggested. Not only was he highly removed from the truth about the various projects, the truth of which was obscured behind vague and even pointless KPIs, but he had no idea of the true situation within any of these projects. One project had reached it’s milestone just ahead of the presentation by launching something totally flawed in the knowledge that it would not be found out for a while and if they hadn’t fixed it in the meantime they would deal with it then and feign ignorance of it. The KPI was declaring completion, not passing though any realistic test of completion.

How can you risk manage a programme without total honesty and a powerful beam of light?

I dread to think of the consequences for his programme of a key project on the critical path getting into serious trouble. If he is measuring the programme with this type of metrics and this lack of control, what chance is there of coming anywhere close to success?
As it happens that project is a critical one and it can stop the entire programme., it should be the focus of major attention until it is out of trouble or the whole thing is abandoned.

There is no difference between this handling of projects and programmes and the commercial practices of reporting false profits to keep shareholders happy and  keep the capital flowing your way.  We have created the conditions for failure and it will continue to happen regularly just as a pile of compost left in the garden will attract plant life.
Is there a realistic answer on either front? I will have to think about this one.

One note in my notebook is quite revealing, no member of the board was present to learn how things were going.

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