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Why programs go wrong

Program leadership

Recent surveys have shown that up to 40% of programs failed to deliver on time and on budget due to being poorly conceived or managed. Furthermore, of those programs that do succeed in delivering on time and budget, fewer than half yielded the benefits that were originally expected.

We recognise there are many different reasons why programs may fail, but in our experience the most likely causes fall under the following four categories:

  1. Start up – during the program planning phase
    • Poorly defined business objectives and benefits
    • Undefined, uncertain or ambiguous program strategy
    • Lack of clarity as to the critical success factors for the program
    • Poorly defined program scope and sponsoring requirements
    • No prioritisation assessment of market and/or business impact
    • Poorly executed and/or erroneous options assessment
    • Insufficient stakeholder engagement from the outset
    • Lack of accountability in the governance arrangements, specifically re-delegation of authorities
    • Unclear executive or senior management sponsorship
  2. Development – during the program development and procurement phases
    • Inadequate briefing/initiation documentation to develop the program
    • Incomplete and/or unrealistic business case information, specifically program costs
    • Lack of appropriate skills, resources and processes for the program
    • Lack of management planning and integration of contractors and suppliers
    • Ineffective or inadequate assessment and allocation for program risks
    • No baseline budget or timetable to enable change control
    • Aggressive/unrealistic timescales with no contingency leading to failure to deliver
    • Unrealistic weighting given to time, cost and quality
  3. Execution – during the program design and implementation phases
    • Unclear and/or ineffective program management processes and accountabilities
    • Retention of key program management leading to discontinuity of management
    • Poor stakeholder management and program communications
    • Poorly managed and/or ineffective governance over change control
    • Ineffective management decision making and issue resolution
    • Changes to the individuals or levels of program sponsorship/prioritisation
    • Inappropriate/incorrect program reporting based on recipient
    • Ineffective program audit, assurance and quality management plans
  4. Commissioning – during the completion and hand over phases
    • Ineffective/lack of business agreement to the commissioning strategy
    • Poor coordination and planning for transition and handover
    • Lack of business/operational readiness for program completion
    • Little or no ownership or planning for the ongoing realisation of business benefit
    • Lack of resolution for risk, issues, problems and disputes
    • Lack of key stakeholder and user acceptance procedures
    • Incomplete operating and maintenance information
    • Scale and volume of defects, exacerbated by missing warranties and guarantees
    • Poor contract management, leading to protracted final account negotiations or arbitration
    • No program closure process, program close-out review or executive review.

At Deloitte, we have deep experience in helping our clients to assess, identify and then respond to these and many other key program and organisational challenges.

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