Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thameslink – the incredible journey

Late 2016, we were commissioned to write a Lessons Learned report on the Network Rail Thameslink programme to enable other organisations to learn from their experiences.

When we commenced work, it became clear that there had been extensive documentation of lessons throughout the lifecycle, but the problem was people weren’t listening.

The challenge therefore was to find a way to communicate the lessons that this amazing programme had faced and how they overcame them and the lessons that others can learn from this experience in a format that could be consumed.

The scale of the assignment has led us to invoke a number of new techniques beyond this case study that enable key individuals to share their passion, pains and gains through the use of videos and workshops to ensure their story would not be lost.

Rather than a formal report, we have created a case study together with supporting videos to communicate the message. This Thameslink case study provides an insight into workings off a major infrastructure programme, and how they in effect developed an approach that has become the second generation of programme management within Network Rail.

 

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Fresh Look: Planning

Fresh Look – Is a series of articles taking a look at common topics to try to come up with some new ideas and insight into problems that seem to repeat themselves across many organisations.

In a world of information overload it is very easy to lose  sight of what matters, so this is the first in a series of posts that revisit to remind about some core  concepts so what could be more important than planning

One of the great mysteries of our profession is planning. For most of our clients, project and programme management is all about  having a plan, and yet most of our  professional qualifications don’t actually involve much planning, in fact some of them go out of their way to avoid it like PRINCE2.

So we shouldn’t really be surprised that so many projects run late or go wrong. There is a sequence to events that are needed to bring a good plan together.  In this article we have set out this sequence for you to consider – Planning – back to basics 

Now, if you are really interested in finding out more about planning and how you can improve your performance, check out our book.

Planning guide banner

 

 

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Implementing effective change management

Getting change  management to  “bite” is really tough, all the training in the world will not make it happen without providing the energy to gain momentum.  This is an area that we have specialised in and delivered on a number of occasions for clients.

In this case study, we gained one of the prestigious TJ Awards awards for the management training and development programme at Cheshire West and Chester Council.

The Aspire Academy team who delivered the assignment were Robert Cole and David King.

This video outlines how we designed and implemented an approach that pulled together a disparate group of change people across a number of sites into a coherent and functioning organisation.

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Fresh Look: Programmes without Blueprints

Fresh Look: Is a series of articles taking a look at common topics to try to come up with some new ideas and insight into problems that seem to repeat themselves across many organisations.

Is your programme exhibiting any of these characteristics:

  1. Project issues dominate the programme board
  2. Unidentified risks start to materialise a bit too quickly
  3. Benefits are rarely discussed
  4. The BCM lacks authority or purpose
  5. Many uncontrolled or unclear dependencies between projects and other initiatives start to manifest themselves
  6. Decision making is ad-hoc, reactionary or just slow
  7. Stakeholder resistance begins to increase and programme loses supportProgrammes either lack momentum or feel like a roller coaster

If that is the case, your programme probably does not have a blueprint, and is probably out of control.

In this article, we liken a programme a yacht and explain how it is not what you see on the surface that is providing the control, it is what happens below the waterline that is important. If your programme is exhibiting any of these characteristics then the article is for you.

 

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NAO insight into major programmes

This is a really interesting article posted on the  NAO blog that looks at the major lessons from programmes and projects in the last few years.

https://www.nao.org.uk/naoblog/a-systematic-look-at-major-programmes/#comment-1754

The depressing thing is that most of the causes of failure are really well known and documented and yet we still keep making them, which suggests that people leading programmes and projects are either:

  1. Too arrogant to think they wont make the same mistakes, and then promptly do
  2. Too lazy to actually go out and investigate other peoples experiences, most of it can be found on google so they don’t even need to get our of their chairs
  3. Too dim to be able to process and implement the  advice they are being given.

 

 

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Seven Deadly Sins – Risk Management

Risk management should be the star of project and programme management, as it ought to stop things going wrong, however it is often seen as the poor relation. Let’s face it, thinking about all the things that could go wrong is hardly exhilarating and very few people talk about their great night in trawling through a risk register.

The reality is that programmes and projects repeatedly go wrong and many of the causes of failure are very predictable. At its best, risk management should be a leading discipline in any project and should empower and support effective decision making. At its worst, it is a low-level support function that is simply generating registers to satisfy people that might be looking over the project’s shoulder. It is rare to see the former but quite common to see the latter.

As part of our Seven Deadly Sins series and as a critical component of successful projects and programmes, we have highlighted below the key reasons why risk management often doesn’t work.

  1. Risk watching: we see this time and again. Hours of time and great pride can be taken filling in clever spreadsheets but often, with little or no connection to the actual activities required to manage and reduce risk. Risk management means doing stuff not taking pride in a spreadsheet.
  2. Thinking that mitigation is a word not an action: risk descriptions should be clear and informative. It’s amazingly common to see mitigation actions like “treat” or “share” with no associated actions
  3. Lack of horizon scanning: often it’s events from outside the project sphere that cause problems. The risk horizon should be a broad view, but too often it is focused on micro or technical challenges within the project scope.
  4. Creating artificial complexity: risk quantification can be used to do some amazingly powerful and valuable modelling (time and cost); but it’s not uncommon to see wildly complex models producing results that could have been derived from something far simpler. Avoid the temptation to produce a ‘clever’ model just to make the answer appear more accurate.
  5. Focus on consequences not the threats: far too many risk registers are lists of bad things that could happen and do not consider the events that will trigger these. As a result risk registers tend to be too long and unfocused, they can be significantly reduced by focusing on the threats.
  6. Ignoring opportunities: apart from cheering people up by looking on the bright side and being hopeful, projects and programmes can make their own luck by taking actions to encourage positive events.
  7. Gaming the system: it’s amazing how easy it is to game risk modelling. It’s almost standard practice now to ignore any opportunities in the risk register when doing cost modelling as this will “erode my contingency”. Surely if these opportunities are real, and modelled properly, then that’s OK?

Have a look at your own project or programme and see if you think any of the above ‘sins’ might be true for you. If you think they are, get in touch as we’re keen to see risk being done really well.

If you need any further support, our services may be able to help. Why not have a look at our brochure to see the services we offer, or visit our website at www.aspireeurope.com

 

 

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The nightmare project manager

We thought we would start the new year off with a bit of humour around the nightmare project manager.

We often talk to project teams about the art of project management and the need to step into their safety zone and see the business as their customer not their victim, so here are a few of the characteristics that make up the nightmare project manager:

  1. Talks in jargon whenever asked basic questions, defensive when challenged
  2. Focuses so much on process, they can’t think for themselves, love filling in forms
  3. Is a hero at heart and loves last minute firefighting to get the project over the line, it will be alright on the night
  4. Focuses on project management not the business outcomes
  5. Dives into  technical detail about the solution rather than trying to understand the business challenges
  6. Sees stakeholder management as everyone’s problem but theirs
  7. Seen it all before, 25 years experience sadly it’s the same every year
  8. Believes that the “can do” approach will overcome their incompetence
  9. Planning is a pointless exercise because everything will change anyway, so what is the point
  10. Talks a good game, vanishes when the going gets tough

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