Programme Management FI

Godel’s 3 Pillars of Programme Management

Software delivery has many moving parts – and when work falls under the umbrella of a wider programme, everything must be in lockstep. Depending on the circumstance this requires that the best people, processes and practices for the task are employed. In the context of remote working, the importance of effective programme management is only intensified.

As a third-party software delivery partner which has partnered with UK companies on over 100 software delivery initiatives since 2003, we have found certain pillars that lead to programme management success. We aren’t prescriptive in these lessons as each Godel partnership is unique, but the following elements underpin success in enough cases that they can be deemed as effective.

Pillar 1 – The Right People

Delivering hard truths is unfortunately part of the job for any manager. In many cases this is the most important quality. At Godel honesty is always the approach taken by teams – if something cannot be done or if something has gone wrong, it must be made known at the earliest opportunity. Without this being present and actively encouraged, problems will be hidden and only come back to bite. Setting up a work culture which encourages blameless discussion of issues is an important component to work on – this is how teams build trust.

Everybody is different – effective managers will not only recognise this but embrace it as an asset. Some developers, for example, are technically focused and prefer to work toward highly specific goals. Others enjoy the freedom of being given full ownership of delivering a solution. Godel’s small software development pods are built around the strengths of the individual team member. Investing in talent management – ongoing programmes of support for individual staff – ultimately supports more effective software delivery.

Pillar 2 – A Shared Vision

A challenge often faced in agile delivery is when a solution needs to be delivered by a certain date. The software development team must work towards that date, meaning work is delivered at a certain speed. Only in a perfect world does everything go to plan in this scenario. The important issue to avoid here is not sacrificing quality assurance for the sake of speed.

Companies facing this issue (each individual stakeholder being a component here) must embrace a mindset shift toward “true agile” – from focusing primarily on deadlines to broader value. Getting there depends on how open everybody is to the transition – managers must lead this by championing how agile can ensure delivery remains true to the business vision. Key questions about the solution that we find important for agile success include:

  • What are the current priorities for the end user?
  • What are the true components to a minimum viable product for this solution?
  • What is the long-term vision for the product?

As well as specific product goals, there will be broader objectives shared by all teams involved in the programme. Programme managers are responsible for aligning every team member to these goals. At a certain scale this responsibility shouldn’t be held on one person’s back – the programme manager should be working closely with team leaders and other stakeholders on a consistent basis to ensure continued alignment. Setting up feedback channels between stakeholder groups is key in ensuring the programme manager doesn’t become a bottleneck, and instead facilitates an ongoing culture of communication.

This approach isn’t a copy-and-paste success formula: agile must be adapted to work well at a team and domain level. This can only be achieved through continuous refinement, and that happens with a lot of discussion between teams and individuals, and an openness to ongoing incremental change. Nevertheless, the core idea always remains true – aligning teams to a clear shared vision helps them deliver software that is of real value to end-users on a long-term basis. We have written extensively about this topic in other articles, which you can read here:

Pillar 3 – Ongoing Governance

Aligning teams to a single vision can only be achieved in practice when everybody knows exactly how to achieve it. As we touched on earlier software delivery doesn’t happen in a straight line, so any metrics chosen to monitor progress mustn’t be too rigid – they need to represent the full picture. For example, Godel and its client Booking.com measures product delivery with OKRs (“objectives and key results”) each of which are highly specific, but closely aligned to the wider product vision.

Metrics allow teams to benchmark their success against something tangible. This is critical, but an equally vital part of programme management is driving the passion behind the metrics. Teams deliver the best work when they care about what they’re delivering. Making this happen takes a few ingredients:

Clarity from the top: the people in charge of business strategy need to share their intentions very clearly with every team member involved. Asking the question “what defines success?” and ensuring everybody has the same answer is the key.

No-blame culture: when things go wrong (and they can!) it is important to remove focus from criticism and place it on how things can improve, which ultimately creates a cycle of continuous improvement. To the same end, celebrating team achievements should be upheld to promote ongoing morale.

Shared expectations: not everything can hinge on vision and values – business requirements involve budgetary, timeline and resource allocation requirements. We have found that considering these elements at budgets from an agile perspective helps ensure they don’t become blockers as development progresses.

Further Information

Godel’s second virtual event, hosted by Deliveroo’s Senior Engineering Manager, Jon Thomas, discussed all things remote working as well as how to successfully implement strategic goals in remote teams.