The 'People Challenge'

Delivering Successful Technology Programmes: The “People Challenge”

The aim of this series of short articles is to understand some of the people challenges encountered on large programmes and discuss constructive ways to deal with the challenges while minimising disruption. You may be thinking that these issues are for the Programme team to manage and solve but everyone who manages a team that supports the wider programme has the responsibility to keep their team delivering. If not, the programme will fall behind and potentially fail to deliver.

In today’s world where businesses are more dependent on the successful delivery of large scale technology programmes to give them a competitive edge, the platform to grow or in many cases just to survive in a competitive marketplace; greater pressure is put on Programme Delivery teams to deliver on time, within budget and with expected business benefits. We all know this is much easier said than done. 

As a reaction to this increased focus on delivery performance we are seeing a raft of information online and in technical publications on how to improve the delivery of large scale programmes by implementing new approaches, methodologies and strategies.  Far less available on the addressing the “people challenge”. This is not something you can automate or outsource you have to deal with real people every day and they constantly change.  Not just the attrition, the normal comings and goings of team members but the changes to the individuals based on what is happening in their lives. As the pressure of the programme grows with deadlines looming people deal with it differently and if you do not manage the team (regardless of size) the programme will suffer negative consequences as a result. 

The Difficult Client Manager/Customer Manager

What strategy do you use to deal with a difficult client manager/customer manager? We have all been there, you are on-site working closely with your client/customer and there is one particularly difficult personality in the mix. This person may directly manage you or your team or possibly they are the resident expert on your project. We know that there will always be people challenges in the work place but sometimes you find yourself in a scenario where it is more difficult than you predicted. In your microcosm of the project this person is key to your team’s ability to deliver. You feel that you have tried everything you ever learned about dealing with difficult characters but this person continues to throw up barriers and when you say “blue” they say “green”. Add to this the political atmosphere and the situation seems hopeless.

Here are a few suggestions on how to progress:

  • Find a time when you can engage the individual in casual conversation. This may be difficult if the relationship is sour or strained but it can be done.
  • Seek mutual ground, do your homework and find out what interests this person, what they are passionate about.  If they are a sports nut and you aren’t don’t get stuck there find something else, do they have kids, do they like to travel, are they a foodie? You will find something that you share an interest in and use that as a conversation point. 
  • Use the discussion to see this person through a different lens. Outside of work where there is no hierarchy or office atmosphere
  • Connect with them on a new level where conversation easier and not fuelled by work pressures
  • Build a rapport, use it as a new foundation of mutual respect for your relationship because you also influenced the old relationship, added to the tension consciously or not maybe just by your body language but as they say it takes two to Tango.

When people know you as a person they are more likely to react to you differently and with more respect, opening the door to a better working relationship. You might not get them all the way to blue but maybe you can agree on aqua marine.


Written by Donna Matthews, Managing Principal at Piccadilly Group