Part 1: How to Recover Troubled Programs

There is only one thing worse than receiving bad news. It’s being told about it late. According to LeRoy Ward (Executive Vice President at ESI), defining the problem and possible solutions is key to a failing program and alerting stakeholders as soon as possible.
Ward invited me to a conference called Managing and Saving Programs In A Changing World. I wrote last week about the first half, managing change programs. Here’s Ward’s take on recovering troubled programs.
Ward began by explaining what a “troubled programme” is. Program management can go wrong for many reasons.
Deterioration of the business case: The program started with a solid business case, but it is no longer scalable.
Evolution of stakeholders: People change, and new leaders change the direction of a program.
Technical failure: This creates a risk for program integration as the building you are creating might not fit in the organization’s architecture.
Resource collapse: This can be in the form either of strikes or the departure of a key resource.

What can you do?
Focus on the right issue. The wrong issue will not help you catch up or finish on time. The right issue is how to finish on time and gain real benefits.
You must regain control. Control refers to the program’s scope, dates, and roles that were lost during execution or planning. This can be avoided by making large, targeted changes quickly.
This is contrary to the advice Scott Berkun offers in Making Things Happen. He warns against making large changes to a project. It can cause it to drift off track and make it take longer for you to see the results.
You then over-correct and make another big change. Then you are just bouncing from one crisis to the next because you can’t keep the project on track. Don’t make big changes to a project that isn’t going well.
Ward identified several problems with failing programs.
Program managers lack objectivity, which makes it difficult to complete an accurate assessment of program issues. External assessment teams can provide objectivity. As needed, bring in technical experts.
Stakeholders will pressure you to agree to a new schedule. It will be extremely helpful to measure progress in small steps.
It takes time to determine how much work is left. To make accurate forecasts, it is necessary to know how far the original estimates were.
It is important to maintain progress while planning for recovery. This will require additional temporary resources. The program manager should oversee the current workflow and do all the work necessary to recover. This is no easy task!

Ward warned against declaring victory too soon. To prove that something is being turned around, it takes sustained control. It takes teamwork to change a program and keep it on track.
Next: 5 steps to fix a problematic program