What psychology adds to Programme Management

 In Change management

Change is often approached from two starting points: Finance (cut costs) or IT (use this). Programme managers from either area will then use their frame of reference to design the change.  Finance people will look at the numbers and chop, and IT people will look at the functionality and add. Success isn’t just delivering a new system or cuts though; it’s about making the change that matters.

The problem with starting with ‘cut’ or ‘add’ is who got the human benefits bit?  A Programme Manager has to know why that change is needed. What problem it is solving.  Asking ‘Why’ brings curiosity as to why things are going wrong and a psychological mindset helps you think beyond numbers and IT adding human preference and behaviours into the analysis.

Asking why is such a blatantly obvious thing to do.  So obvious though that it often gets overlooked in the ‘lets just change’ gold rush (make savings, implement IT, next project, move on). Curiosity around why people make choices adds a social and cultural component that opens up the realms of behavioural economics and nudge theory.

Rory Sutherland gives a great example of thinking about ‘why’ in a talk where he discusses the perceived problem of needing a faster train route.  The engineers say what is needed is an engineering project that costs millions.   He argues though as a commuter he doesn’t actually want a faster train journey, it’s an inconvenience if it’s too short. His point is about what change is really needed, engineering or to change the experience on the train?  Love his suggestion of using super models.

What we are talking about is understanding the real problem and knowing what success looks like.  Stopping and thinking, are you jumping to the solution too quick? What is the problem you’re trying to solve and how will you know if you’ve succeeded?  Shorter commutes or more comfortable commutes?  More people travelling or fewer people travelling? Don’t just build a new train track. Ask why.

Looking at where the value is needed and thinking of ways to deliver that benefit works out cheaper if you consider the changes that can make a huge amount of difference.  The UK based call centre, the extended opening hours, the knowing your customer’s name, the time to care, the personal touch, the marketing relationship, the loyalty scheme, the human bit.

Technology and finance may sit behind all that but It’s about how you make the needed change.  Change programmes need robust controls, good governance, a great team and a very, very good plan you also need to know what difference you are trying to make to people.   Without that the benefits changes will just not fly and it’ll be one more failed change management project.


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