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Employing a Common-Sense Approach to Program Management

On Aug 29, 2018

If you’ve been in this business for any amount of time, you’ve probably experienced a variety of program management styles.  If you’re like me, you retain the best of what you’ve experienced to weave into your own program management methodology and retain the worst in your ‘things to avoid’ file. 

Common Sense

What we adopt as best practices, we mold to fit our own style.  Each of our personalized styles may not be perfect for everyone, but fits well with each of our respective strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. It’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to good project management, but rather what makes sense --- that is, what makes common sense.

Surprisingly, I’ve learned over time that not everyone follows this simple and basic ‘common sense’ rule.  The excitement and often overly ambitious start to new projects frequently finds the team jumping into the deep end of the pool when they should be wading in and adjusting to both the depth and temperature of the project. 

When everyone jumps in (with the best of intentions) and leads with their personal strengths and preferences rather than approaching the project as an organized team, the basic set up tasks are often omitted.  The result is a project getting off on the wrong foot, without the strong foundation on which to build and ultimately achieve success.

Foundation First – The Four Ps

Establishing the strong foundation is necessary for any successful project management effort.  Before going all in, set the stage and establish the common ground with the four Ps:

  1. People: roles/responsibilities/knowledge
  2. Procedures: project methodologies
  3. Practices: flexible techniques
  4. Products: clearly defined deliverables

When it comes to process methodology, simple is usually best, as long as it is sufficiently flexible to adjust to the unknown as the project unfolds.  The methodology established should also be easy enough for the internal and customer teams to adopt.

In my experience, a good rule of thumb is to ‘travel light’. Keep project phases/stages to a maximum of five and keep the list of defined deliverables as short as possible. Every project needs documentation to provide the ‘belt and braces’ but a project version of War and Peace is not required to achieve, what in the end, are typically simple and well-defined goals.

Methodology Training

With regards to methodology, training a team to use it is time consuming but crucial, and it needs to be completed before programs are underway.  Introducing the team too late in the progress only leads to confusion and delays. Having a resident methodology expert on hand is a must to oversee the project and provide the checks and balances to a program once it is in full flow.

Once a program of work is conceived and a ‘real’ business need has been ratified, the process begins to transform that need (derived from ideas and concepts) into requirements for which a solution can be defined and delivered. When the process methodology has been agreed to, it is at this point the people (i.e. the team) are introduced to add their knowledge and experience to the planning of the solution delivery.

If the planning stage is collaborative, includes the customer, and gains everyone’s buy-in, the program will typically have a much higher chance of success. While the road ahead will most likely still have a few bumps, when a team bonds with a common focus and goal for the project, the inevitable bumps have a lessened negative effect upon the path to successful delivery.


When starting a new program, follow tried and tested processes and always take a ‘common sense’ approach. Train the team and the customer to follow the delivery processes, be organized, pragmatic, diplomatic and enthusiastic - and the journey will inevitably be much smoother.

Steve Abbott

By Steve Abbott

Over the past two decades Steve Abbott has worked in the UK software industry in Program Director and Head of Delivery roles, where his responsibilities included the successful planning and delivery of numerous global implementations for high profile Insurance and Banking customers. These large and complex projects have resulted in Steve developing an unmatched proficiency in agile methodologies. He began his career at SDL International and Pitney Bowes before joining edgeIPK where he oversaw the company’s services division for over 10 years, until the company’s acquisition by Temenos in 2013. For the past five years, Steve has successfully led and managed large onshore and offshore services delivery teams in the EMEA region for 1Insurer (formerly known as The Innovation Group) and Unirisx.

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