Delivering Successful Programmes, Pt. 1

Organisational Change Activities, by John Curran


In writing this second article on Programme Management, I have been helped by some really interesting feedback on the previous article. Many thanks for all your comments.

What stood out from the discussions that it prompted was the consistent message around generating buy-in  and support for:

  • the inclusion of costs associated with a broad engagement with the organisation
  • focusing on the people change aspects of the change programme

Many shared the view that these are an area of significant challenge from business leaders who feel that these tasks could or should be undertaken by the business as usual management structures. I have often been in board rooms and been challenged around this perceived overhead cost.

My own experience and continual review of the literature and research on programme management, demonstrate that successful delivery of outcomes and benefits, i.e. successful programme management, is dependent upon the delivery of these key activities.

The Challenge

For organisations that have limited experience of delivering successful change programmes, the investment in these stakeholder management and people focused change activities often seem like an unnecessary investment. While the spend on technology or direct delivery activities can be more easily rationalised by management, costs associated with supporting people to alter behaviour or to adopt a new way of working is frequently a more difficult proposition to sell. “…Is this not the job of the line manager? Don’t staff and managers just need training?”

Developing an understanding of the challenges involved in change, how these activities are bound up in the delivery programme and gaining a commitment to spend on the expertise and experience needed requires both long term and short-term strategies.

I have drawn up a list of approaches that we have taken in the past to validate and justify the effort invested in change activities. These have been broadly divided into long- and short-term approaches as described below.

Longer-term Approaches

To get to a stage where these costs will be presumed and will attract less challenge, an ongoing concerted effort is required to generate a level of comfort for the senior stakeholders with the activities and cost associated with organisational change and development. Developing relationships with senior sponsors to champion the approaches is always a worthwhile investment, ensuring that they are equipped with the Why, What and How to allow them to support the approach and investment.

1. Lessons Learnt

Lessons learnt exercises tend to get lip service as a project runs down. If correctly framed and with the right contribution from stakeholders, diagnosing change related issues will help support a narrative that develops over time. How lessons learnt have been used to inform newly proposed programmes should be made clear in the project initiation and/or business casing documents for future work, supporting the case for structured change approaches. It’s necessary to demonstrate that actual learning has been taken from those lessons.

Building a library of lessons learnt over the history of change delivery within your organisation and referencing this learning provides a strong basis for including particular change activities in the plan.

2. Leadership Development

If the use of psychometric tools such as TotalSDI or Myers-Briggs is not commonplace in your environment, their introduction as a mechanism to understand the perspective and drivers of others are worthwhile in building support and understanding for the behavioural aspects of change.

They are powerful when used as part of developing and building teams and can support a more considered approach to changing behaviours and ways of working across the organisation. Involving the wider team in discussions that focus on personality types and preferences around change will support a constructive conversation about the activities required, the work involved and therefore the resourcing requirements for programme delivery.

Shorter-term Approaches

As early as possible in any change programme, we undertake a key set of activities that feed into a business case for change. Although these approaches are important in their own right, they also generate the justification for ongoing change and engagement across the wider business.

1. Stakeholder Mapping

There are many templates available online that can be used to support stakeholder mapping. However, you should adjust the structure of the template to meet your specific need. Important elements include using category fields to stratify the groups of stakeholders that can be addressed through similar means and identifying the priority or impact of each group of stakeholders based on the criteria that make sense to you and your organisation.

In our experience, this is most effectively done in a workshop environment. The development of the content and the analysis with the key members of the programme – the sponsor, the solution owners, key back office roles and especially operational management impacted by the change – will result in a more complete outcome. You will typically find that a first session will be focussed on identifying groups and the information that should be captured to make the tool work effectively.

You may want to pre-brief attendees on what is to be achieved in the session to avoid this conversation dominating the session. Expect to iterate through the analysis a number of times as the scope and approach to the programme becomes clearer. This may result in some fairly fundamental rewrites of the stakeholder approaches, but it will ensure that the team understand the complexity of the change that is about to be made, and the effort involved in getting a coherent message across.

2. Benefits Management

Business benefit is a key area in identifying the true change impacts that will result as the intended solution is applied to the organisation. Identifying the expected areas of benefit, whether they be cashable cost savings, performance improvement, customer satisfaction scores or other efficiencies is an interesting undertaking in its own right but is really only the start of the exercise.

Drawing a distinction between the activities that the project or programme will undertake (“enabling activities”) and what the business or operation will be expected to do differently (“realisation activities”) is a really fruitful area for developing discussions about real and meaningful change. The more detailed these conversations can be, the greater the visibility of the work involved in achieving this change.

Drawing a line between the realisation activities and what the programme needs to deliver is a powerful means of ensuring a collective buy-in to stakeholder and change management activities within the programme. Given that the business benefits are typically what drove the need for the programme in the first instance, drawing connections between engagement work and the outcome is an effective tactic in ensuring the right investment into that aspect of the delivery.

3. Risk Management

Through these early engagement activities, it will become clear to the programme team and the key stakeholders what the likely impediments are to effectively landing the required organisational and people changes. Focussing on the detail of the stakeholder and benefits analysis will surface many of the challenges that the team has experienced in the past.

Again, involving the wider programme team and stakeholder community in the thinking helps to generate a shared sense of the importance of the mitigating or enabling engagement activities, and the resource and costs involved.

Running and ensuring attendance at dedicated risk workshops can be a challenge. Focussing on the negative can be off-putting for some and often more senior managers feel that it isn’t a high priority value-adding activity. To get around this, consider dedicating time within other sessions, such as those already mentioned, to focus on specific areas of risk and drive a discussion on what could be effective mitigations.

Very often these mitigations come back to communications, engagement and training. We have often fine-tuned the thinking in these sessions, getting the participants to think about ‘what needs to be true’ to mitigate the risk away. We have found that shifting to a more action orientated and outcome way of thinking about the mitigations helps define innovative mitigation plans.

4. Programme Plan Narrative

Challenging and time consuming as it can be, the development of a written narrative (and a presentational form is often best) bringing formal planning documents to life are really valuable in exposing the detailed activities required to deliver change. This provides an opportunity to draw out the delivery journey and to explain how the change activities are key to supporting a sustained transformation. It becomes the story for the programme. Focussing on creating compelling imagery allows people to understand and engage with the programme. This ‘story’ is far more compelling to the audience than trying to extract meaning from the dependencies within a Gantt chart.


The justification for investment in change activities in organisations without a track record in delivering change projects needs careful planning, an investment in time to manage stakeholders by developing their understanding of the need, and patience bringing your management teams on the journey.

Developing allegiances across functional boundaries, finding enlightened or experienced sponsors and drawing on experience will, over time, convince those that hold the purse strings that this is not only beneficial but essential.

To find out more about how we can help in this space, please get in touch:

John Curran, Founder and Solutions Director,