Program Recovery isn’t easy & it’s often fraught with danger. But the tough stuff is the most rewarding!

Here’s 10 tried & true rules for turning around failed programs or projects…

  1. Define a clear Mandate from the CEO & business – without this, you’ll never succeed. Often programs fail because no-one really knows what it was set up to achieve. Make sure your goals, deliverables, success criteria and outcomes are rock solid. Don’t begin to move your troops until you know what mountain you need them to go over, when & why.
  2. Get your Leadership Team all on the same journey. If someone is rocking the boat, spend the time to get them to sit down & start rowing in the same direction together. Once you have leadership aligned, they will be able to facilitate throughout their part of the business. This often is the most challenging part of program recovery. Ensure you’ve listened to everyone’s point of view, especially the ones who don’t agree (see point 7 below). Spend the time finding a common way forward across all leaders, defining a single outcome they can all stand behind. Once you have this, use this message regularly to keep everyone aligned through the life of your program.
  3. Establish effective governance that meets regularly to keep things moving. Use your time with leadership well. Make sure you let them know what you need their help with & why. They are key to your success but they’re busy people – make it easy for them to lead the change through their part of the organisation.
  4. Make sure your benefits are well understood & communicated across the entire business. If people know what you’re doing & why – it will be easier to enlist their help & prioritise resources in your favour.
  5. Implement strong frameworks & operating cadence to keep things on track. Establish daily huddles, weekly project reviews, weekly status reporting & fortnightly steering committees to help keep all the moving pieces just “following the bouncing ball”.
  6. Use program registers to track actions, decisions, risks & issues so everyone has a single source of truth. This will save you every day as you’re bound to run into someone who wants to know “who made that decision” or wants to tell you “you should be doing x”. If you can show them empirical evidence of how you got to here & what’s next on the to do list, you’ll win their confidence & trust. This is also critical in getting clarity on what your team needs to achieve each day, which makes them more focused & less likely to be taken off course when incidents arise or “things happen”.
  7. Listen to the naysayers – they often know something important you should pay attention to. In time these guys also can become your biggest advocates as you’ve actually taken onboard what they’ve been trying to tell the business for years. They are a great at warning you on the traps for young players (aka how things really get done around here). They also help road test some of your plans (future pacing what roadblocks you’ll encounter/ ways it could go wrong) – which only makes your planning better. Disregard the naggers & doomsday merchants at your peril!
  8. Use internal SMEs to lead the change – don’t make it all about you or your business coming in to save the day. Find the people with real “street cred” inside the organisation & enlist them to help shift the hearts & minds of their peers. These are the guys that often sit silently in the back of a room, until they say the 1 thing that can sway a debate. Those are the people you want on your program as their influence can cut through organisational barriers better than any directive from leadership.
  9. Prioritise what’s important – from both the business & program aspects. Yes, get some quick wins on the board so you can demonstrate effectiveness early. But don’t shy away from the tough stuff… this often takes longer but lays the foundations for all that is to come. Make sure you have the robust conversations with the leadership so you can uncover the truth behind why the program is failing. Resolving some of those bigger issues may take time & a little political finesse, but if you don’t shine the light on the problem areas, you’ll never fix them.
  10. Everyone likes to be part of something that’s successful – keep sharing success stories (no matter how small) along your journey & call out the names of key people who have contributed. Communications to your business is critical, especially when things have failed & you’re now in recovery. Remember the people who are working by your side each day are often change fatigued & weary. It’s your job as a leader to give them the boost it will take to refocus their efforts & dig deep to get your program over the line.

Good luck with your journey & let me know if you want any other lessons learned from my years in the program recovery trenches.