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Delivering programme excellence

Maguga dam

Programme management is most commonly the process of managing a number of interrelated projects to deliver new or enhanced infrastructure, such as a new metro system, an airport, a mine, a power station or even the Olympic Games.

In some instances, programme management is also used with the intention of improving an organisation's performance and effectiveness.

Aurecon has been adding value to projects by delivering programme management solutions for many years, often working in a trusted advisor capacity and within integrated delivery teams to secure the benefits and outcomes the client was seeking. Aurecon has the capacity and capability to source, secure and deliver institutional and infrastructure programme management services to internal and external clients around the globe.

In late 2012, Aurecon conducted a leadership workshop at its Gauteng office South Africa where colleagues from across our programme and project management competency took time to discuss critical issues, developments and trends in this complex and developing discipline.

One of the objectives of the roundtable was to capture insights and experiences, drawn from across our programme management team which would form the basis of a suite of thinking papers.

Over the coming months, Aurecon will publish thinking papers developed from the discussions in Gauteng. In this, our first programme management thinking paper, we look at the elements typically found in a programme where excellence is the norm, rather than the exception.

Why are some programmes delivered more effectively than others? Is there an approach or methodology that creates the foundations of success for a particular programme?

Graeme McKenzie, Technical Director, Environmental & Advisory Services
From my experience, it’s having common, shared objectives. This is one of the keys to success. This understanding must be shared across the whole team – not just within the client’s team, but also within the programme management team and any associated projects.

In the early days of a major health project in Australia, we had an independent audit and one of the questions asked of various people in the programme office was: “What are the objectives of the programme?”

In response, some people said, “It’s to make money”, while others were saying: “It’s to improve the health of kids,” and others said: “Well, it’s about delivering the new facilities on time and in a safe manner.” 

While none of these were wrong, it was clear from these responses that people had differing perspectives and were driving the programme in different directions. There was a fundamental misalignment, which if not addressed early would have undermined the successful delivery of the programme.

John Mason, Leader, Programme and Project Delivery
I’d agree with that and I think that this extends to the stakeholder environment as well. Once you have clear objectives for the programme, achieving alignment with all the key stakeholders and developing a common vision for the programme will help the client achieve a successful outcome for the programme.

Danie Wium, Industry Leader, Government
In planning the delivery programme we need to address a wide range of different topics or areas. These need to reflect not only differing programme delivery techniques and particular financial or business objectives, but also the required outcomes and desired benefits, the stakeholder environment in which the programme is to be conducted and the source of potential suppliers or resources that could be used to deliver the programme as a whole, not just on a project by project basis.

Obviously, delivery needs to be carried out at a project level, within set programme parameters, but the interface and inter-linkage between these projects can get overlooked and it is these aspects that ultimately lead to the delivery of a successful operational programme.

At its most basic I believe that what is needed to deliver a successful programme is a consolidated picture that brings every critical element and all the key stakeholders together.

John Mason
There are particular aspects within programme management which clients need to be aware of in developing their approach and which make for a more complex delivery environment than might normally be encountered in delivering a specific project. 

Some people find it hard to make the transition from project to programme management, as programme management requires skillsets which have to flourish in a less defined environment, with a higher degree of stakeholder engagement and often the need for a more “corporate” or “strategic” approach to delivery.

Danie Wium
Often stakeholder groups are much wider within a programme and the delivery paradigms are much longer, and obviously associated budgets are much, much larger as well. Longer timeframes actually influence what occurs. So you need to adopt a more wide ranging perspective on what you’re doing and the decisions you take.

Graeme McKenzie
In terms of finding commonalities between a project and a programme, one of the key elements is alignment of the team.

Whether you’re in a project or a programme, the team must all be moving in the same direction. You might be looking at a higher level of information, but everyone has to be focused on the same goals and vision, moving in the same direction, with a team who can effectively communicate and relate to one another. 

Team development and team building are a major part of the success of any programme. If you don’t have this alignment and a common vision, the team will struggle to succeed.

Abbot Point Coal TerminalDennis Plockmeyer, (Previous) Technology Director, Coalition Provisional Authority Program Management Office, Iraq, Office of the Secretary of Defense, USA.
It’s not uncommon on large programmes, for the client to seek help with defining what the objectives of the programme actually are or what the outcomes might be.

At the outset, particularly if it’s a long duration programme, the programme management team needs to be flexible because the objectives may change as the leadership or programme environment changes. This may well be financial or business-related, so what you may have thought was the objective in the beginning may change significantly, based on either internal or external influences as you move forward with the programme.

I think another factor is that successful programmes usually start with thorough and advanced planning. People always underestimate the amount of planning that needs to be put in place to really get the programme off to a smooth start. Once you lose control of the programme, it’s very hard to get it back because there are so many moving pieces.

John Mason
If you look at the London 2012 experience, I remember Sir David Higgins, who was the Olympic Delivery Authority’s CEO, setting out a clear delivery framework from the start, this was in essence two years to plan, four years to deliver and one year to commission.

When you look back at that programme with its multiple stakeholders and a very complex political environment, the emphasis on planning was absolutely critical to its success. I think people often underestimate the value of the planning required to deliver a successful programme.

Dennis Plockmeyer
Too much emphasis on early delivery and a need to show tangible physical progress can have an adverse impact on long term programme performance. As they say, “Time spent planning is time well spent.”  This is particularly the case with major programmes.

People are always in a hurry to get the “shovel in the ground”. Unfortunately, they can pay the price in the long run because they didn’t do the planning needed to avoid the issues that lie ahead when they do put the shovel in the ground!

John Mason
I think Dennis’s point is particularly pertinent on major programmes where there are many stakeholders and it’s critical to have clearly aligned objectives from the outset. If you don’t have these, then the risk of fragmentation, mixed priorities and ambiguity in delivery is high and it’s very, very difficult to get things back under control.  This combined with a strong controls environment in which there is clear sight of the programme baseline and rigorous controls surrounding change, with transparent and regular reporting tailored to suit the levels of the programme that require it.

Pieter De Wet, Service Leader, Programme Management
I’d like to add to Graeme’s earlier point. I believe it’s critical to gain have a strong commitment, from both from the client and from the delivery team, to deliver the programme. Too often you find that senior management say they are committed to the programme right from the start but six months in, things aren’t happening, because in practice their priorities lie elsewhere. 

When it comes to programmes, most people look for quick wins, as Dennis said, shovel in the ground, make a change now, and they stop focusing on the other programme outputs and benefits. When this occurs, you don’t create the right environment for good decision-making and this can have a negative impact on the medium to long term health of the programme.

I definitely agree with Dennis that, in defining the programme, we must think of it as being fluid because in practice the environment is constantly changing, so programme leadership must be in a position to address the fluidity of the environment in which they are operating.

Looking at leadership, I recall working on a programme in the UK where we were focussing on organisational change. Initially, the client went for quick wins but critically, a senior management person, overseeing the programme, had the foresight and the gravitas to actually stop the programme because this person identified a lack of planning as being a real issue with the programme. 

The second round was far more successful than what had previously occurred in round one of the organisational change programme.

John Mason
Clearly governance has a key role to play on successful programmes and when I’m talking about governance, I’m talking about how the programme is established, lines of authority, roles and responsibilities, reporting lines, interface management and how these are established.

Graeme McKenzie
This is particularly true within public sector environments, where decision-making and approval processes are not always clear, or they are convoluted, or there are multiple interfaces and levels  across which decisions have to be made.

In this environment, the same programme may need to go to various departments and agencies, whether it’s finance or treasury, public works or the service delivery agency. For example, within the health sector, many stakeholders have an interest in the programme and if you can’t streamline decision-making processes, you add unnecessary complexity to the delivery of the programme overall.

John Mason
If you go back to the key tenets of good programme delivery, for example, clear objectives and clear alignment across multiple stakeholders, clear governance is fundamental to achieving these as without it, you’re likely to get conflicting views on where the programme is supposed to be headed, what it is or has achieved and what it’s supposed to achieve.

Dennis Plockmeyer
If you have clearly defined roles, you avoid duplication of effort and conflicting objectives. Also where roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, you don’t end up with any areas where people say: “who is looking after that one?” and only finding out when the programme is in trouble that there is a hole. So all in all, governance is critical.

Danie Wium
To me, what we’re saying is that clear responsibilities can be derived from defining the decision-making processes. Once you define the decision-making and delivery processes, you know what needs to happen at specific times and you allocate that to specific people. Essentially what I’m getting to is for a successful programme, you have clearly defined processes that will support decision-making.

John Mason
In terms of governance, it really comes down to the sponsorship for the programme and the support that you’re going to get from that environment. 

Going back to the point on roles and responsibilities; one of the challenges for programmes is the scale of what you are dealing with. Starting off with the objective of having a small focused client / programme management team can be very important in constraining the natural expansion that occurs as the programme develops. The risk of not doing this is that you could develop a self-sustaining hierarchy which does not add value.

With a large number of people, you get overlaps of roles and responsibilities and you run the risk of confusion in who’s responsible for what. So at the outset, a clearly defined organisational structure – one that allocates roles and responsibilities, helps to overcome this. 

When combined with a clear understanding of programme objectives and drivers and aligned stakeholders the programme stands a much greater chance of success. It is critical to know what the real drivers and objectives are behind the programme but also to constantly revisit these throughout the life of the programme.

About our leaders

John Mason
John is Aurecon’s Leader, Programme and Project Delivery and has extensive experience in the planning, design, procurement, management and supervision of major infrastructure related programmes and projects across the world, for both the public and private sectors. John has specific skills in the area of organisational development and the delivery of complex infrastructure programmes and projects, with an understanding of the measures that need to be taken to achieve delivery objectives whatever they may be.

Graeme McKenzie

Graeme has significant experience delivering major health programmes and projects. He is currently part of the team delivering the USD 1.5 billion Queensland Children’s Hospital project in Brisbane, Australia.  


Dennis PlockmeyerDennis Plockmeyer
Deputy Director for MELE Associates Biomass-to-Energy vertical delivering programme and project management services to large commercial clients fielding large biomass-to-energy plants. (Previous) Technology Director, Coalition Provisional Authority Program Management Office, Iraq, Office of the Secretary of Defense, USA and Chief Information/Technology Officer, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, US Navy.


Pieter de WetPieter De Wet
Pieter has been involved in project and programme management for the past 15 years in both South Africa and the United Kingdom, including contributions to the redrafting of the Office of Government Commerce’s (OGC) ‘Managing Successful Programmes’ manual in the United Kingdom.

Danie Wium
Danie is an expert in municipal infrastructure planning and development. He provides thought leadership to local provincial and national government departments on critical infrastructure planning and development.

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