How Programme Risk & Issue Management Can Go Wrong ?

Posted by Kevin Brady on Sun 7th June 2009 at 11:37 PM, Filed in Programme ManagementProject Management

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Some years back I was asked to take over a supposedly well run Programme of Work delivering a Siebel solution across Europe and South America. After a suitable handover period I finally got my chance to attend a Programme Board meeting. During the meeting I became concerned at the low number of escalated risks and issues (numbering in single digits) with none of them identifying who owned them, or what the progress was in resolving them. The escalated risk and issues looked more like a “to-do” list with very little tracking. It was clear to me that the risk and issue management was failing especially when many of the reported risks and issues seemed very trivial for a programme with upwards of 1500 staff. Because poor risk and issue management is detailed in most project /programme surveys as a key reason for failure I new I had to get to the bottom of this issue before I took over from the out-going Programme Manager.

My first port of call in this investigation was a meeting with the PMO manager and a review of past Programme Dashboards and project risk and issue logs. The results of my investigation were as follows:-

• Project Risk and Issue logs seemed to follow best practice guidelines with evidence of full risk and issue history and clear risk and issue ownership and progress tracking.
• Project Status Reports and escalated risks and issues for consideration by respective Project Boards did not match with logged risks and issues designated for Project Board risk and issue resolution.
• Project Board escalated risks and issues did not show board member ownership or any form of resolution tracking. Some risks and issues had been closed without details as to how they had been resolved /mitigated.
• The risks and issues which were escalated for Programme Board resolution /mitigation also did not match the numbers targeted for escalation in the Project Status reports. Also the risk and issue narratives and descriptions had been softened with many escalated issues /risks shown as resolved /mitigated without any details of how or by whom.

My investigation showed a sorry state of affairs but no answers of how this situation had developed. Obviously many risks and issues were not being resolved /mitigated and, in my view, it was only a matter of time before the programme hit the buffers and my employer (the supplier) found themselves getting the blame and having to provide lots of free work in order to keep this important client happy.

I presented this evidence of faulty process to the out-going Programme Manager. I was told that all the Project and Programme Boards had un-minuted pre-board meetings. Apparently these unofficial meetings were attended by nominated individuals representing one board faction or the other and they reviewed draft reports, risk and issue logs and instructed us to change anything which they thought might displease the Executive Sponsors /Senior Responsible Owner.
Wow! Unbelievable

It was clear that the client was embedding a spin management operation in the middle of our risk and issue management processes, and little could be done about this as it was now an embedded and accepted unofficial procedure.

I realised that I could do little to alter this situation unless I had some good luck. Well surprise surprise luck was on the way grin
One morning I turned up in the office and found that we were locked out because the client had failed to pay our office rental costs. This meant that over 300 staff were not able to work until the bill was paid. A serious issue!

Eventually we resolved the problem and expected a rough ride at the next programme board meeting. During that meeting something unexpected happened. The Senior Responsible owner exploded in anger about the office issue and the fact that the escalated issue and risk logs only had one risk and issue recorded, and this had been the case for some weeks with the office issue not among them. He asked me to overhaul the risk and issue management system and stated that he was fed-up with being told what people thought he wanted to hear.

Needless to say I set about putting things right!.

It shows that sometimes luck can be on your side, and is a great example of how spin taken to the point where people lose control over a programme or a project. 

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