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Managing technology change programmes can often feel like a ‘bloody trail of gangster revenge’. The 1971 film Get Carter describes Jack Carter’s (Michael Caine's) quest for vengeance as 'following a complex trail of lies, deceit, cover-ups and backhanders’. The pun-intended Kata learning technique that sits behind Toyota's Lean success provides a painless alternative for delivering programmes successfully in the dynamic digital era.

In large programmes there are many stakeholders, invisible dependencies and competing executive agendas. It’s not easy to navigate through these and many other challenges. The traditional response is to appoint a heavy-hitting programme manager and a command-and-control Programme Management Office. A plan is developed, milestones are put under change control and project managers are terrorised into keeping everything ‘green’.

Dynamic ‘digital’ strategies, and the introduction of Agile delivery methods in large corporates are changing the way we need to look at programme management. The ‘old’ ways of running programmes are becoming increasingly out of kilter with the culture and processes that are being used to deliver modern, continuous change.

Technology solutions are now being developed by a new wave of empowered knowledge workers who do not respond well to top-down controls and processes. Dynamic customer markets mean that setting out on long-term delivery plans are destined to miss the mark, and make programme failure even more likely than ever. 

The ideas and research of Kata learning - developed by Mike Rother from his extensive analysis of Toyota – provides an approach that makes adaptability and continuous problem solving a habit rather than a one-off event. It makes use of everyone’s problem solving talent, which in turn makes people feel good, and become more loyal and productive. Empowering teams to find the best way to solve problems and deliver new initiatives will keep the wheels of your strategy turning much more effectively than top-down commands.

To be good at problem-solving however, takes practice and repetition. Analysing and making sense of your current condition and making plans for incremental steps to improve the way you deliver things is not a natural way of working. We tend to revert to the ‘easy’ habits: blame others, ask for more time or more money; tell the business that they didn’t articulate their requirements properly!

So, rather than appoint another heavy-weight programme manager, or the blood-thirsty military project police, think about creating a Kata skilled PMO that can help your teams analyse, act and learn. If you want to empower teams to deliver your digital strategies with ease, rather than bludgeon your way to success, get Kata!

Contact John Prideaux  to talk about this and other ways of modernising your programme management approach that work in the digital era.