Last week, I met the Strategy Team at one of the Financial Services organisation here in Australia. We discussed their approach on project portfolio management and how we possibly could improve it.
During our conversation the team mentioned that one particular strategic initiative would give them some headache and concerns. This is what they said:
“We have one major strategic initiative, which will deliver a core function of our business. This initiative is a multimillion-dollar program, which started 1.5 years ago and will continue for another 1.5 years. Every time we question the strategic alignment, we get the answer: ‘We are aligned, because we are initiative X and we have full support of the Board Members”.
We really don’t know what to do.”
To be honest, when I heard this comment, I was a little bit taken back. Could this really be the case? Do they not know if this initiative will provide them the benefits they were after?
If I really think about this, I’ve experienced similar situations in the past, where large strategic projects have been commenced and have been underway for sometime without validating their strategic alignment to goals and targets over the course of their delivery. Some of them were successful, but some of them weren’t.
Unfortunately, the meeting got interrupted and we couldn’t discuss this topic further. But somehow, the question got stuck in my head. What would I do, if I need to solve this problem this week? Next week? What would you do?
After some brainstorming and a couple (!) of coffee’s later, I came up with the following approach:
I would perform a “Health Check” with the following activities:
Business Case Review
- The first thing I would do, is to familiarise myself with the business case.
- Once I know the business case, I would form a small team which would include the Senior Business Analyst and, if possible, the Commercial Manager or Financial Analyst to analyse the following sections:
- Business Case Assumptions Section:
Are all assumptions still valid and true? Has the technology changed in the last 1.5 years? Has a competitor gained market share?
If one of the original assumptions is not valid anymore, than the initiative might need to change its course.
- Business Case: Business Benefits Section:
Next, I would ask the BA and Financial Analyst to review and validate the stated business benefits in the business case. Are these still valid in the current environment? If not, corrective action needs to be taken.
- Benefit & Assumption Validation with Strategy Team:
Once, I get the validated business benefits, I would ask the Strategy Team to confirm that these benefits are still aligned to the company’s goals.
- Business Case: Features link to Benefits:
Next step, I would check if the high level features are linked to benefits. Depending how the business case is structured, this might be already included. If not I would perform this exercise with the BA.
For example: I would start from the initiative outcome and link the features back to benefits – if a feature cannot be linked to a benefit – then it shouldn’t be there. (I’ve adapted this approach from Phil Abernathy, who assisted me with the implementation of a governance process at an Insurance Company).
- Business Case Assumptions Section:
|To reduce the load on call centres in providing information on existing insurance claims||To reduce the number of calls to the call centre by 500 from current number by July 2014||Thus saving….||John Smith||Feature 1|
|To deliver working solutions faster and improved time to market||To reduce the cycle time for requests by x% over the next 2 years||The assumption is that this will deliver a business benefit of….||Helen Hunt||Feature 2|
|To increase employee satisfaction in order to reduce attrition and attract the best staff||To increase employee satisfaction from the current 5/10 to 7/10 by end 2017||This will result in reduced attrition and if we assume $30k per new hire we hope to save…||Linda He||Feature 1,3,2|
Mapping the relationship of features to benefits will allow better prioritisation and the understanding if a feature is really a “must-have”.
Review Current Documentation
- Next, I would review current project documentation, steering committee packs to get an understanding where the program is.
- I would work with the Project Manager and BA to discuss current scope and how this scope is linked to benefits. If the scope can’t be directly linked then it shouldn’t be there and corrective action needs to be taken.
Provide Findings and Recommendation
- I would discuss my findings with the Strategy Team. If the findings would have a major impact on the initiative (e.g. benefits don’t stack up anymore or assumptions are not valid), I might suggest hiring a third party (e.g. consulting company) to validate my findings and to communicate the news.
Changing the direction of the program could cost a lot of money and will cause a political stir within the organisation. Manager’s KPI’s are possibly linked to the delivery of the program (but not necessarily to its benefits) and changing it will have influence on their performance bonus. So there will be a lot of resistance to change.
Basically, this would be my approach to validate if this strategic initiative is still aligned to companies goals and targets.
What would be your approach? Have I missed something? I am really interested in your thoughts. Thank you!