The Value in Strategic Program Health Checks

Related Topics: Digital Strategy

by Chris Colston – 

Several years ago I had a procedure where the dentist accidentally killed several nerves at the root of my teeth. Unfortunately, I couldn’t feel anything or recognize the signs of the damaged that he had done during a root-canal procedure, so I resumed my regular eating habits shortly after the dental procedure.

One year later while getting a routine dental cleaning, I received alarming information that I had two abscesses that were eating through the bone in my face.  The dentist couldn’t believe I was able to walk around or function. She quickly scheduled me with several specialists including an oral surgeon. The surgeon began a series of procedures to rebuild my bone, teeth and repair the damage to my face from a bone infection.

While the damage to my teeth, gums, and face cost me over $20,000 cash in surgical procedures, without that routine checkup, the consequences could have been worse. For example, I could have had a permanently disfigured face, infections throughout my body, heart attack, stroke, brain infection or even death.

The reality is that every strategic business program should have a series of program health checks. The health checks should include specific criteria to confirm if a program is healthy, at risk or in jeopardy of failure. A simple green, yellow, and red dashboard can provide plenty of actionable insights.

Meaningful View of the Program Status

At a minimum, the dashboard resulting from the program health check should provide a meaningful view of how the status connects with the strategic alignment, governance, and benefits realization. A recent study by the Project Management Institute estimates a 50% improvement in goal attainment when a mature benefits realization model is adopted. There are many important questions to ask when conducting a program health check.

  • Will the program goals provide business outcomes that are specific, achievable, realistic, measurable and traceable?
  • Are the stakeholder’s expectations being met?
  • Does the governance model enable a timely decision making process?
  • Are status meetings producing substantial inputs that help ensure strategic alignment with business goals or transactional and low value?

If the answer to these questions is no, there is a high probability the ability to measure the success of the program could significantly diminish.

Strategic alignment, governance, and benefits realization make up the nerve center required to measure the success of your program. If these three domains are mismanaged, it’s like damaging the nerves at the root of your teeth and will open the door to the domino effect of failures.

Status Considerations

A functional program status should include the scope, schedule, budget, benefits, risk, issues and resources. It should be clear if the program scope has no change, minor changes, or significant changes.  Program documentation should be up-to-date and reflect any new increases or decreases in the scope. Without the proper health check, transactional status reporting could become as painful as a root canal procedure.

Stakeholder Management

The stakeholder management process will need to demonstrate the program is operating with clear communication and proactive transparency. All stakeholders and delivery teams should understand the business case and associated projects. For example, is the quality of the business case suitable? Are the business impacts clearly understood?  Do all the stakeholders understand and fundamentally agree on the business case? Is the stakeholder commitment and engagement at a satisfactory level? Are the stakeholders aware of the critical issues, risk, and blockers as early as possible?  Are there alternative solutions to mitigate the risks and blockers? Does a pattern of the team demonstrating foresight while executing the work exist?

A routine Program Health Check can save your strategic business programs the pain of big project cost overruns. The domino effect of failed business initiatives can include, slower speed to market, lost opportunity cost, lost credibility, and even negative revenue impact. Without the proper health checks, your project could be infected with low-value information and results, put on hold, shut down, and go into post-mortem.

Risk and Issue Management

Risk and issue management is vital, and that makes it essential to use a well-formed risk log with the appropriate level of detail. Key questions to ask include is the risk log appropriate for the size and scale of the program? Are the risk tracked and actively mitigated, recorded and traceable?

Change Control

An effective change control process is a crucial component. Clear answers to the following questions help ensure good change control. Are changes to the program managed properly? Are impacts on the changes assessed, communicated and understood by the stakeholders? Is the change control process consistent? Changes should also be reviewed to confirm there is still a proper alignment with the business case and scope of the program.

Resource Management

One of the toughest challenges in delivering strategic programs is ensuring the team members have the right roles, responsibilities, skills, and capabilities. I recently led an important program where technical resources were abundant, but there were almost no skilled project managers included in the resource plan to help ensure success. I’ve also seen many instances where project managers with the appropriate skills were involved in the resource management plan but did not have the proper time to be the dedication to high priority projects.

Budget Management

The budget management process will not be successful without the project team gaining a true understanding of the stakeholder’s needs. According to a recent CIO Magazine article, there are several practical tips to consider to help you manage your project budget. Along with these essential tips, your team should not hesitate to conduct the required discovery, assessment, and due diligence needed to develop an accurate budget. Avoid rushing into the budgeting and estimating process and be prepared to use an iterative approach to build a reliable estimate.

There should also be a portion of the project budget that covers the surprise and unknown factors that tend to be a roadblock to capturing business opportunity and delivering more customer value. Important questions to ask are do we need more money to achieve the best value? Can we provide enough value to justify the money? Do we have the proper budget approvals and capital paper alignment? Is the budget tracking as forecast? Are you prepared to re-visit, review and re-forecast as needed?

Blog 18-26 - Program Healthcheck
(Click to enlarge)

These are just a few key areas to review and measure when conducting a strategic program health check. A senior program/project manager should lead each Health Check and include collaboration with the right mix of the project team members and stakeholders.

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