People working in fluid complex environments need direction to enable them to succeed

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History shows that complex technology delivery needs structured direction. Coherent aligned efforts do not spontaneously emerge. Smart technical people, left to their own devices, can lose sight of the objective and pursue technically interesting dead ends. Those who are not as smart can easily create friction and disorder that debilitates everyone. To counter this, direction needs to be provided by people who understand the technology and who recognise the need to direct.

Challenges, disorder and change

Critical programmes, inevitably, face significant timescale and technical challenges, plus, whilst they are not necessarily big in absolute terms, they often have high demands for resources and individuals that are in short supply.

These challenges have to be overcome in a far from perfect delivery environment. Entropy plays its part, with the tendency to drift towards disorder rather than a smooth delivery flow. People’s behaviours cause “unexpected” things to happen.

Mistakes get made and plans have to change and change very rapidly if the moment is not to be lost. Changing business plans and priorities can be the ultimate source of disruption to “well planned” programmes.

High intensity decision making

Moving at pace whilst staying in control demands high intensity decision making. Key decisions need to be made quickly and they need to be directionally correct. The number of decision to be made is high and the process is never ending. This is not a strength of traditional programme management practices.

Direction of critical programmes

We have, for many years, helped organisations by delivering or fostering active programme direction. The culture and behaviours brought into play have provided the control and push needed to succeed. The programmes and delivery teams we have directed have then established reputations for consistent, high quality and predictable deliveries.

Who is it for?

Clients have ranged from global “blue chip” enterprises, many well known household names, to small suppliers of niche products and service. Team headcounts have ranged from many hundreds down to less than ten. The approach is equally valid at both ends of this spectrum.

When is it needed?

We have been called in when sponsors see they are going to demand more of their organisation than it can currently deliver. We have been called in when things have gone wrong and need fixing. We have been called in to increase pace, to remove uncertainty, to fix quality and simply to “get it over and done with, once and for all”.

How does it work?

We can shadow your existing leadership team, providing feedback and helping them to strengthen their direction of the work. We can supplement your operating model and leadership structures, establishing and owning a specific set of activities that will provide the anchors and drive for the work whilst at the same time influencing others to direct actively. We can become your directing layer driving and controlling activities as an overlay of your existing day to day management and delivery processes. Each situation is different and tailored solutions are the name of the game.

The Direction Ethos

The concept

The foundations are (a) a state of mind around accountability and leadership and (b) behaviours that are aligned with and support this state of mind.

Key players

Direction is provided by small groups of bonded people a “leadership cluster” that “thinks as one”. They may come from different organisations, suppliers as well as client side, they may have diverse day to day remits, but they are the people who understand the situation and who make the key plans and decisions.

Accountability for success (or failure)

Ultimately the accountability for success or failure sits with these people. No excuses about poorly performing support functions, if there is a weak link then they should have ensured that link had been bolstered or bypassed.

Clear campaign planning

Direction requires a clear campaign plan communicated to the whole team. Good campaign plans minimise risk and keep options open. The directing team shapes the campaign plan.

Key decisions

The directing team is responsible for key decision making, however low level and technical the particular decision is. It may not make the “nth level green or blue widget?” decision, but if it is key then, awareness of it, knowing the options, ensuring it is made on time, ensuring it is aligned with the campaign plan and living with the consequences falls to the team.


Quality, in all its diverse guises, sits with the team, including the quality of:

  • Alignment of vision and intent with stakeholder expectation
  • The campaign plan, ensuring it is sound and secure
  • Programme activity planning and enactment
  • Alignment of definition and design with intent
  • Implementation and its validation

To Direct or to Manage?

This is actually a false question. Direction does not supplant management, it maps out a route and guides management to provide delivery at pace. Management is layered where-as direction cuts across layers, and organisational boundaries, to act at the points of most influence. The regular management process is one of the streams within the programme that needs to be directed and supported to ensure it does its role well. Effective management is still an essential element of the overall picture.

More info

Start by reading a summary of what it means to direct IT and software delivery programmes.