When is a program not a program?

It's fair to say that 'Program' remains one of the most over-used and abused words in the development and construction industry.

An airplane above city buildings

"With billions of dollars of public and private money being funnelled towards complex programs over the next 5 years, it’s vital to make sure that this money is being spent in the right way."

One day it’s a big project, another it’s a list of scattered, independent capital upgrade works across a portfolio of properties. Rarely though, especially in Australia, is it properly applied to a coordinated set of activities and projects that are clearly aligned and contributing towards the delivery of a specific set of beneficial outcomes. 

The misuse of the word 'program' is only a side-issue though. The real problem is the efficiency, consistency and vision with which genuine programs are, or rather aren’t, delivered.

Program Management when done well, with clarity of the benefits end-game, and robust management, prioritisation and governance around the most efficient delivery of those benefits, makes a huge, beneficial difference. Sadly, in most programs there remains too much focus on the individual projects and their outputs, without a coordinated approach to identifying, tracking and delivering a set of target outcomes, and with delivery models that lock-out flexibility and innovation.

This leads to the wrong things delivered at the wrong time, and with too much risk to the overall program. Pieces of the program may be seen as successful, in terms of on-time or on-budget delivery of specific outputs, but the procurement, management and delivery practices enabling the situation often get in the way of delivering the benefits the program was originally set up for.

As described in the Arcadis report on Adopting a Program Management Approach to Maximise the Benefit of “Vertical Cities”, outlining thinking that can be applied to any complex program, doing it better is increasingly a necessity rather than a nice-to-have. As expectations of return on investment rise, the web of competing stakeholder requirements become more complex, and as market conditions and technological enablers rapidly change, the need for a ruthless and agile approach to driving towards a clear end-game becomes increasingly important.

The right language will help, with the consistent use not just of words like program and portfolio, but also the terms that underpin them, and adopting approaches like Managing Successful Programmes more widely to give everyone a common basis would be helpful. It will be the broader acceptance of the value of Program Management, and the tools, approaches and capability that come with that, which will really make the difference though

With billions of dollars of public and private money being funnelled towards complex programs over the next 5-years, it’s vital to make sure that this money is being spent in the right way, with the right identification and management of both the risks and the benefits.

When the appropriate capability, delivery structures and overarching focus on the end-game are in place, then these programs can become more than just a set of inter-related projects and truly deserve the title. That’s the point at which the full return on investment for society can be delivered.

Download your copy of Adopting a Program Management Approach to Maximize the Benefit of 'Vertical Cities'  here.

Gareth Robbins

Sector Managing Director - Property, Energy and Resources Ask me a question