Sustaining Successful Programs and Portfolios in Uncertain Times (Part Two)

In this three-part series, we look through the eyes of a program or portfolio leader and outline the practical steps leaders must take to sustain the success of program and portfolio management initiatives during a crisis like COVID-19. Merely establishing a semblance of control in an emergency is challenging. Still, in time, programs and portfolios will need to turn their attention to re-establishing performance levels and ways of working for a post-crisis “new normal.”

In our experience with helping clients navigate crisis scenarios, we believe there are five critical steps to navigating a crisis and driving value through program and portfolio management. In the second blog of our series, we’ll explore how to quantify risks to achieving your program and portfolio goals, as well as arm you with the next steps you need to set a new direction for these programs.

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After establishing initial control and priorities, it is now time to set a new direction with proper controls in place. Leaders often find themselves in a situation where there are still many crisis-related unknowns. It can be challenging to re-establish outcomes and timeframes while also incorporating potential contingency factors. Leaders must establish a path forward while also incorporating underlying measures to monitor progress.

Step 3: Quantify Risks and Potential Impact on Achieving Goals

In this stage, program and portfolio management leaders can apply similar processes and actions in both typical and crisis scenarios. Yet, crises require more urgency and bolder moves, grounded in a few indispensable steps:

  • Lean on established risk and issue processes. In times of uncertainty, leveraging a structured process to capture and manage risks and issues can provide reassurance of control, rather than knee-jerk reactions or responses that are not proportional to the risk likelihood and impact. While the situation should not inhibit your program management office from doing the basics well, you should nonetheless encourage speed of response. If risk and issue processes were not well-established in your organization pre-crisis, then today’s scenario presents an opportunity to introduce some additional rigor and create long-lasting value for your programs.
  • Revisit risks and determine new mitigations. Be bold and deliberate in identifying the novel risks and issues stemming from the crisis, while reviewing the existing ones, and push towards robust and impactful mitigations. This approach will allow you to build a picture of the current and accurate risk landscape and act with greater purpose. Program and portfolio management leaders should reinforce positive team behaviors, such as driving actions to completion. In high-stakes crises, team accountability is acutely critical to delivery stabilization and effectiveness.
  • Perform reprioritization against the new paradigms. Considering the business case, crisis management plan, and risk review, reprioritize team activities. Conduct the reprioritization with critical stakeholders to keep them (1) on track with the current plan, or (2) engaged around a new approach that addresses the current situation. As a useful technique, consider using high-level scenario-based planning, as detailed scenario planning activities are often futile given the frequency of change in a crisis.

Step 4: Set New Direction and Enhance Monitoring

With control and insights in place, program and portfolio management leaders can make strides in new directions but should maintain careful and purposeful monitoring to prevent crisis recovery relapse. In this stage, leaning on your high-performing teams is critical, and a people-centric approach can help you to amplify recovery value and outcomes:

  • Reinforce the goals and adjust activities as needed. Make sure the team focuses on the targeted value and results. Yet, they should also understand that activities may change as metrics evolve. For example, North Highland recently helped a global hospitality business reset its program objectives, establishing the top criteria, and outlining a new approach that reduced stakeholder demands by 75 percent while upholding the original plan. Our approach engaged and enabled stakeholders to support increasing business demands more effectively.
  • Sustain focus on team member well-being. To avoid crisis fatigue on their teams, leaders need to focus on leading people first and executing initiatives second. This includes being open to listening to the concerns, health, and anxiety of team members at all levels. Proactively anticipate resource shortages/absences and plan to limit potential loss of team knowledge capital and bandwidth.
  • Revisit measures of success. Concrete deliverable or activity-based metrics may be unachievable in the crisis climate. Instead, find new ways to define success by team behaviors and collective value delivered.

In times of volatility and uncertainty, relying on structured processes, taking deliberate and calculated steps to set a new direction, and focusing on collaboration are critical to driving program and portfolio recovery. In a crisis, there are many evolving variables, but your workforce is one essential constant in ensuring recovery and sustained durability. In our third and final blog, we will explore the ways to re-establish performance in the “new normal” beyond a crisis.

Click here to read part one of our series.