Despite the best intentions of employers, many programs fail. The majority of corporate wellness and health promotion programs, for example, are not always effective in making employees more healthy. They also don't reduce health care spending or absenteeism. McKinsey cited a similar lack of success for corporate leadership programs in a 2019 report. Corporations often report similar results for training and mentoring programs and rollouts of enterprise software. Failures with the latter can stagnate an entire company. Much of the problem with these programs stems from a failure to approach program planning and management strategically.
What is Program Planning?
Program planning and management is the process of creating and implementing a program. Organizations often define programs in different ways. In most businesses, a program is an effort that is of limited duration with a limited set of deliverables. For example, it could be a sales incentive program designed to foster more conversions. It could also be a collection of ongoing activities targeted to an internal audience such as a mentorship or safety program. Done right, it involves a series of steps that identify goals, concerns, potential problems, resources, stakeholders and key performance indicators. Essentially the plan is a series of established goals and a designated process for achieving those goals.
If you're considering implementing a program in your workplace, here are some basic program and planning guidelines you should know.
Make It Relevant
Programs should fit into the organization's mission, and to do this, they should also align with the organization's strategic plan. It's a worthwhile exercise to put in writing how the program will advance the company's goals as expressed in its mission statement and strategic plan. This provides a built-in easily articulated purpose for the program. It makes it something that all stakeholders can understand and get behind, regardless of where the initial idea for the program originated.
Successful programs are not created or implemented in a vacuum. Any new program should also integrate seamlessly with existing programs and practices at your company. Integration also allows you to tap into existing resources and involve other program managers in supporting the new program.
If you have a board, consult them. As the group responsible for the strategic direction of your company, involve them in both establishing and overseeing the initial launch of the program.
You'll also want to discuss the program with other relevant stakeholders, including internal or external customers. Getting the perspective of these users of the program will be critical to its success. Do they see the same problems you do? More importantly, do they see the same solution?
A consultation with stakeholders can raise issues that you may not have thought of. It can also provide solutions to those issues. Consider forming a small diverse group of stakeholders to take a look at the final plan for your program. Their feedback can provide you with some critical indications of your program's success and also offer valuable opportunities for marketing the program.
Create A Team
Both planning and managing the program should involve a diverse team of people, including executives, managers, employees and other customers of the program. Many programs are designed to disrupt or transform an organization. One of your challenges will be buy-in. A diverse team of talent from across your organization can help deliver that buy-in.
Depending on the nature of your program, you may want to outsource specific aspects to ensure you have it executed well and to the highest standard. It may also make sense to train existing employees to fill in the necessary gaps if the project is of long duration. If you're creating a new company website, for example, it might be in your best interest to have someone onsite who can manage it over the long term.
Document The Process
Documentation tends to make people more accountable. It also fosters consistent messaging and eliminates the possibility of confusion or misunderstandings. Establish a budget that includes everything from personnel to training to office space and equipment. Create separate budgets for program planning and management of the program once it is implemented.
Create a process-oriented document for planning that covers stakeholder consultations, timelines and required resources. Evaluations of the program should also be included in the process document.
Manage Your Project Team Carefully
Some programs can require a lot of hours and commitment. This can be a problem, especially when a program continues for an extended period or becomes unexpectedly long. Watch for burnout. Monitor sick time and overtime carefully. Ensure your team has sufficient downtime and that they are dealing with realistic expectations from other stakeholders.
Expect The Unexpected
Things will happen. For example, the new company-wide sales tracking program you carefully rolled out may glitch. Detailed plans can help you deal with the unexpected, but you can't prepare for everything. Be prepared to adjust your short-term and long-term planning to meet the program's goals.
The same is true for program management. Changes in personnel, direction or even events outside company control can affect programs. Be prepared to adapt.
Establish KPIs Early In Your Planning
Creating key performance indicators (KPIs) will allow you to know whether your program is being successfully implemented and well managed once it is implemented. They make program evaluation relatively simple. Consider what success looks like to you and the rest of your team. How do you see the program working? What do you see it accomplishing? Your KPIs should be both actionable and attainable.
Focus On The Short, Medium and Long Term
KPIs and long-term goals are critical to the success of program planning and management. However, long-term goals can seem a long way off, particularly for multi-year projects. Give equal focus to the short-term and medium-term goals that will take you to your long-term goals. Take your cue from strategic or financial planning and create long-term goals with a particular focus on immediate goals. These are easy to envision and allow your team to celebrate achievements while they work their way to an end goal that might initially seem far too distant.
Consider A Pilot Program
Rather than rolling out a program company-wide, consider trying it out on a select department or group. The feedback you get from a pilot program can be incredibly useful, and you'll avoid impacting the entire company if the program encounters problems.
Conduct A Post-Implementation Review
This is where program planning and management meet. Create a review team. Establish a timeline for review and review your programs regularly using your KPIs. What is the progress you've made? What could you do differently to ensure better progress? What have you learned so far?
Revaluate your programs on an annual basis. Take a look at everything from budget and resources to the value you are proving to the internal or external customers. Successful program planning and management requires teamwork and attention to detail but above all, it requires the ability to adapt and revise to fit your organization’s changing needs.