First clear a path that will take you to where you’re committing to get to, then commit

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Before deploying people and money to a distant goal it makes sense to identify waypoints you can pause at and to plan a 'pathfinder' expedition to demonstrate you can get to the ones you are committing too.


Most programmes reach points where they take stock, reassess, adjust their objectives, reset and head off in a revised direction. The thing is, often these are forced on a struggling programme by circumstances. They weren’t planned. Organisers of long group walks plan rest stops and points where people can drop out or take an easier route. Programmes need the same, common sense, approach.

Route maps

A route map with waypoints is a framework for both delivery control and for governance of commitment. Delivery can focus on near term legs. Commitment of investment for full scale work can be limited to those legs of the journey that are understood. Targeted pathfinder activities can crystallise and reduce the level of risk associated with the next leg.

Balanced commitment

Investment committed should be balanced against the certainty of being able to reach a waypoint and the potential next move if it is reached. That move might be to stop, if there is no way forward or if it is now realised that going to the next waypoint would not provide great benefits.

Pathfinder activities

Pathfinder activities tackle legs ahead of the main effort. They avoid general high volume high cost work and take-on the challenging removal of uncertainty. Each leg will be different. Work can take many forms. Examples could include proposing and then validating key requirements, identifying a key algorithm, agreeing a rationalised product set together with what to do with customers on discontinued products, working out how an acceptable cut-over from an existing system can be done, determining the time and cost of converting existing code or agreeing a commercial model for a new solution.

Pathfinder work aims to address risk and uncertainty. It may show that the way to the next waypoint is open, it may demonstrate that it is time to stop and do something else.

A different approach

Navigating by waypoints and emphasising pathfinder work does not come naturally to everyone. It is a habit that needs to be developed. On the surface it can seem hesitant and wasteful. In reality, done with care, it is the most prudent way to proceed. We can help teams to work through this new approach, systematically identifying risk factors, surfacing waypoints and planning pathfinder works. A maximise uncertainty reduction mindset backed by a ‘trials first’ approach helps deliver predictable outcomes.

A Bad Experience

What happened

A global player in a niche business sector aimed to consolidated and standardise all of its billing and finance support using an off the shelf ERP package. A tier-one partner was engaged and spent a long time developing 750,000 lines of customisation code. This was the dropped onto two pilot organisations. The Achilles heel? Two sector specific business practices with unique complex business logic. Needless to say neither the requirements nor the ‘dirty’ conditions under which they needed to work had been full comprehended. The features were “Happy path” and running the business required too much manual correction. The businesses never warmed to the solution. Ultimately a very different, much simpler, solution was chosen for the global roll-out. Not only was the cost of the first version wasted, the customer had to pay to have the second version developed.


How could this have been avoided? Imagine this, rather than paying a supplier for full scale development why not get them to demonstrate that they could master these two critical business problems. Using an appropriate technology to build a parallel run prototype to demonstrate mastery of the requirements, the real-world conditions to be dealt with and of the algorithms needed. This would either show it could be done or that it was more of a risk than envisioned.