Value Delivery May be the Most Important Aspect of a Program

Bill Hoberecht - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Program outcomes, Value delivered and Business benefits are important!  Achieving the benefits from a program might be one of its most important elements.Over two decades I've observed over $500M in programs that failed to deliver any tangible value to the company because they lacked any serious attention to value delivery.  Don't let that become your modus operandi.

Program outcomes. Value delivered. Business benefits.  Are they Important?

Yes.  Most assuredly. Without a doubt.  Achieving the benefits from a program might be one of its most important elements.

Yet, this isn't how many (or perhaps most) Program Managers and PMOs approach their responsibilities.  Sure, we say, "Outcomes over Outputs" and Scrum teams maximize the value of the product - but are we implementing methods that live up to these aspirations?

The much-maligned PMI and predictive planning methods prominently highlight the importance of project value delivery (PMBOK® Guide (2021)) and program value delivery (The Standard for Program Management – Fifth Edition (2024)).   Scrum emphasizes value as a product owner accountability.  Ironically, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development is (mostly) silent on this topic, preferring to mention (four times) the importance of "working software" and "valuable software."

Here's what I see as pervasive practices by Program Managers and PMOs:

  • Planning the is focused almost entirely on program execution, often omitting adoption and sustained use of the resulting solution.
  • Team composition, touted as "cross-functional," includes technology delivery areas with little consideration of other areas that are essential to value realization.
  • Status reporting that considers only technology delivery. The familiar Red/Yellow/Green status applies to schedule and cost (and sometimes scope and quality), with nary a mention of any projected or realized business value.  Focusing and reporting on output is relatively easy - in a cursory glance at two dozen status reporting templates online, I discovered only one that had a mention of business benefit.

In short, we focus on program execution and direct our stakeholders and executives to that same topic.  This reporting has an important negative side effect, impacting program operation.   If the reports are all about schedule, then the program team will tend to put their attention on meeting a date - and this is what I've observed in most cases when I first join a program.

Over two decades I've observed over $500M in programs that failed to deliver any tangible value to the company.  Most had two common themes upon completion:

  • IT was proud of delivering the agreed scope on time.  (Most times over budget.)
  • The business unit leaders were livid and had decreased trust in IT.  The delivery disrupted operations and provided only the same functionality as the legacy systems.  For months following program completion, business leaders repeatedly questioned the wisdom of investing so much in the program.

What happens when programs fail to deliver value to the business?

  • Decreased trust by business leaders.  IT's reputation takes a hit.  Business leaders now have one more reason to be skeptical of IT's capabilities.  For a CIO that wants their organization to be seen as a strategic partner, this is a step backwards.
  • Decreased confidence in program leadership.  IT executives likely have new doubts about the program manager's ability to lead a team in delivering value to the business.
  • Opportunity cost.  Funds and resources invested were allocated here without benefit, to the exclusion of other efforts that may have delivered value. 

The projected (anticipated) value of the program efforts should ideally be understood from portfolio management activities and decisions.  (If this function doesn't exist or doesn't produce any business benefits information, then this responsibility falls to the Program Manager in collaboration with others).  This anticipated value should be a regular topic of discussion within the program team and with stakeholders and is surely one of the more important content items on status reporting.

Achieving the business benefit for a large program is much more than creating and delivering a technology solution.  Here are three tips for the Program Manager who takes delivery of value quite seriously:

  • Forming a cross-functional team.  IT project managers often think of cross-function team in terms of technology areas to involve:  architecture, software engineers, database experts, cybersecurity specialists and cloud operations.  Program managers who have an objective of realizing business benefits must also consider these areas:  organizational change management, regulatory affairs, legal, union representation, public relations, the company board of directors, business planning, business operations and human resources.
  • Shared team goals.  If your company has performance scorecards (often for determining a bonus payout) for each division (e.g., IT, business operations), then these silos of goals can create a dissonance in aligning team members on a unified business benefits goal.  I'm a strong proponent of creating one or two shared goals for large programs, with these goals being tracked, reported, reviewed and used as a scorecard goal.
  • Reporting on business value.  Include information in your periodic program status reporting about the projected business outcome anticipated from the program.  Regularly reaffirm the target business value but expect this to change as the team and business make discoveries along the way.  Upon program delivery, the achieved business value would be reported as a core PMO responsibility.

If you are a program leader, take a few minutes to evaluate whether you and the team have a sufficient focus on business value:

  • Is the anticipated business value clear?  Glance through your program's business case (or other foundational documents) for this information.  Did the appropriate stakeholders approve this benefits statement?
  • Are you reaffirming to the team and your stakeholders the value to be delivered?   Is this in your most recent program status reports.  Does your status reporting show whether you are on track for this goal?
  • Does the intended business benefit justify the cost of your program?  Ask yourself this question in a 1-minute program litmus test.

 

Do you regularly consider the business benefits your program will deliver?  How do you manage this aspect of your program?