Multi-partner programme delivery – a new human-centred approach for success
07 October 2016
There’s no doubt that delivering large capital programmes is hugely challenging. That’s always been the case. But as the size and complexity of programmes increases, the challenges have grown with them. Pressure to deliver multiple programmes that are ‘right first time’ whilst reducing costs is creating an environment that makes it hard for delivery organisations to remain competitive. Little wonder, then, that in a 2015 survey of CEOs, only 72% of those in the capital projects and infrastructure industry predicted growth for their company, compared with 84% of CEOs across all industries.
Delays and cost overruns are sadly the norm on capital programmes. A study conducted in 2013, for example, found that 94% of programmes ran over budget with an average overspend of 60%  With increasingly complex technical demands and a number of third party vendors with sometimes misaligned objectives, the potential to miss delivery deadlines and budgets expands. However, the symptoms do not always directly indicate the root cause and, therefore, the solutions to address them may also not be immediately evident.
A clear illustration of this was a recent, large infrastructure programme involving a number of different parties. The programme was running late, and there was a risk of a significant overspend. The initial diagnosis of the problems was that the original contracts were not aligned, and that there would have to be some renegotiation in order to address the issue of cost overruns. However, a team from PwC looked deeper into the programme performance and identified some seriously dysfunctional relationships between the various partners involved in delivery. The terms of the contract were not the issue per se. Instead, it was the behaviour that the contracts drove that was the real source of below par programme performance.
To address this we found ways to introduce a common vision and an agreed way forward for all parties against which all the parties could calibrate their activities. Whilst the overall project scope was quite clear, the lack of detail beneath gave rise to ambiguity and disagreement, and the absence of a mechanism for visualizing the programme’s goals in a holistic way, led to each of the delivery partners focusing on their own, discrete activities which inevitably caused a breakdown in communication and cooperation. By addressing how people behave, as opposed to the legal constructs under which they are working, we were able to address many of the underlying problems that were preventing effective progress and suggest constructive ways to move forward that all parties could buy in to.
The experience of this programme is not exceptional. In fact, analysis shows that the overwhelming majority of cost overruns and schedule delays arise from how programmes are managed rather than their technical complexity. Improving performance therefore requires much greater attention to the ‘softer’ issues that are often overlooked.
To achieve that, it’s critical that programme leaders learn to adopt a coaching approach that can bring all parties together and embrace new, transparent ways of working built on trust and honesty, in which common goals are visible and there is an agreed plan to achieve them. Regular and frequent communication is essential. Metrics that can be used to predict performance rather than provide only a rear-view mirror on what’s already been done can also help instil the ‘one-team’ ethos that successful programmes require.
Of course, instilling the right behaviour at the start of any programme will offer the best possible chance of success. Investing time upfront to put new transparent ways of working and a shared plan in place will significantly ‘de-risk’ a programme. However, even where a programme is relatively advanced and encountering problems, a new approach to managing people can get delivery back on track. In a world of complex technical programmes, the human dimension can often be marginalised. But people, after all, are ultimately responsible for getting the job done. Putting them at the heart of the approach to delivery is essential.