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The Prickly Pitfalls of a Poor Program Plan

By April 22, 2019Energy Rant

This week’s Energy Rant is courtesy of guest writer, Julie Blackwell, Manager – Program Strategy at Michaels Energy.

Poor program planning can and will wreak havoc on your program’s performance.

Program design is multifaceted. There is the technical side, focused on measures, standards, impacts, and cost effectiveness. The process side outlines steps, roles, and responsibilities. Communication is responsible for forms, directions, and engaging outreach. These are just a few examples of the many design categories. The point is, the program designer is rarely an expert in every aspect of a program’s design. Therefore, the designer must seek out and engage subject matter experts, weaving their knowledge into a well-thought-out program design and deployment strategy. BUT, what happens if you don’t?

Stress! That is what happens. Days are spent putting out fires, apologizing endlessly, watching your credibility flow down the drain, and chasing customers and information like a greyhound chases a rabbit.

What does this do for you? Nothing good. You come out of the launch looking 10 years older with bags under your eyes, a stress belly, bald spots or gray hair, popping ibuprofen hourly, and a permanent haggard expression on your face.

I may be exaggerating about the physical effects of poor program planning, but there really are pitfalls to avoid. The best thing to avoid is poor process planning (internal and external). A broken process leads to delays and bottlenecks. People cannot perform if they do not know what they need to do. When the process is unclear, people tend to do one of three things:

  1. Drop the ball – This leaves the project and customer in limbo. The Product Manager is not getting customer satisfaction points or impact results from dropped balls, and the reputation of the program is damaged.
  2. Hot potato – This is when you know a mess just landed on your desk, and you toss that thing to anyone who will catch it. The person who hot potatoed that mess is safe like someone who got the last chair when the music stops. Unfortunately, the project likely went to someone who shouldn’t be part of the process at all.
  3. Make it up – When in doubt, wing it. Sometimes people who don’t know what to do feel compelled to do something, anything, before passing it along. Will it be correct? Unlikely. You also risk inconsistent program delivery, which can introduce all kinds of chaos.

What else happens in a broken process?

  • Confusion – Unless you are an adrenaline junky, chaos and confusion are not desirable for the customer or the delivery team.
  • Inaccurate data – It is next to impossible to track cost of delivery, impacts, timelines, and performance if projects are getting dropped, lost, or rerouted.
  • Poor experience – Customer and delivery channel participants will be frustrated and irritated with the program. Is that what you want discussed over coffee?
  • Extra steps and delays – Things do not get done on time. This can force the Product Manager to spend time tracking down project and customer statuses like a mom looking for that second shoe before the school bus arrives. It is a stressful flurry of activity that could be avoided if everything was put in its correct place.
  • Extra expense – Every extra step, workaround, and delay in a process costs money. When a Product Manager has to apologize, chase information, or usher a project through the process, it costs money. Every time you have to edit and adjust data, that’s right, it costs money.

Why focus on processes to avoid the pitfalls? When you walk through the processes required for program deployment, you can catch many of the gaps that were overlooked in the design. For example, you can test the customer’s experience by asking yourself questions like:

  1. Do I have the fewest steps possible for the customer? Customer inconvenience is a hurtle.
  2. Are the claim forms clear and is the information required readily available? If the claim form is a chore, customers will abandon the program.
  3. Are the tools and measures required for the customer’s project readily available? If you don’t have what you need to complete the tasks, frustration and delays will ensue.

Repeating a virtual walkthrough on your vendor, call center, rebate, data entry/tracking, and report processes will help expose design flaws. When a program launches, follow each process the first few times to ensure that each person on the team understands their role and responsibility, and that there are no gaps in the process. This one strategy will save you from the prickly pitfalls of poor program planning.

Julie Blackwell

Author Julie Blackwell

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