As a Programme Leader, you will know first-hand that every digital transformation programme undergoes some sort of complication or setback.

From delayed start date to a key document not being approved, a lot can go wrong!

The issues that emerge throughout the programme can be split into two categories: primary and secondary matters.

In brief, primary matters are usually initial teething problems before you get going on a task. On the other hand, secondary matters are more nuanced and sophisticated problems that emerge as you are doing the job.

However, in our experience, Programme Leaders waste too much time getting bogged down in primary issues – and in particular, programme staffing.

In this blog post, we explore why it’s in the best interest of the programme to avoid going through the laborious process of programme staffing, and why programmes should consider outsourcing recruitment instead.

How is the health of a programme monitored?

A Programme dashboard is widely used in project management to show the status of tasks for upward reporting. Almost all programme dashboards rely on indicating risks and issues with a RAG indication. Just in case you need reminding, RAG stands for Red, Amber, and Green.

If there are no issues, the task will be reported as Green. When there are problems associated with a task, it will be reported as either Amber or Red depending on its severity and impact:

Amber: The team should proceed with caution. A task may be slightly over-budget, or quality may be down, for instance.

Red: This is the danger zone. A task has exceeded the permissible criteria and needs immediate attention. A task may be 10% over-budget, or 10% over schedule, for instance.

Are traffic lights on a Programme dashboard an illusion?

There are, however, problems with using RAG dashboards.

Firstly, some people have different interpretations of what red, amber or green mean. One manager may interpret an issue as amber, whilst another may interpret it as green.

Managers may also massage their RAG status so they don’t have to admit that they are in the red zone.

Finally, often an issue in amber can get little attention when there is a sea of red on the dashboard. However, what can occasionally be overlooked is whether the issue in amber was a primary matter. Non-completion of primary matters means that activities following on from its completion could still generate their own amber and red status later on.

Let’s explore this by way of an example. Can you guess what the more serious IT Programme issue is?

Issue 1: “Functional consultant start date delayed” – in amber

Issue 2: “Functional consultant’s design document not approved by business” – in red

The red one surely, right?


Resolving Issue 2 takes you much further in the process of delivery. However, when you resolve Issue 1 – you may still have a lot to do later, as there are more outstanding steps to complete the delivery meaning more chances of further ambers and reds.

RAG dashboards can be misleading indicators of the health of a programme because they cause us to lose sight of whether a red status is against a primary or secondary matter.

What are typical Primary and Secondary matters?

Primary matters occur in the initial stages of the programme, usually before programme delivery has begun. In our experience, the most important primary matter is programme staffing.

Secondary matters occur once the programme is underway, in the programme delivery stage. For example, issues may arise over stakeholder alignment, business change or more technical issues around integration, or software capability.

When issues emerge on primary matters, secondary matters are as yet untested. To achieve real progress, you’ve got to see past secondary issues and not be bogged down by primary issues.

We believe that getting bogged down in primary issues is wasteful. Smart Programme Directors tend to outsource laborious processes such as programme staffing so that the teams can remain focused on secondary matters.

However, many Programme Directors find making this behavioural shift, a challenge to accomplish – because of something we call “Programme Staffing Paradox”.

In our blog post, How to Select the Right Recruitment Strategy, we explore how The ‘Hiring Matrix’ will help you choose what strategy to employ depending on the jobs you need filling.

Programme Staffing Playbook

What is the Programme Staffing Paradox?

Think back to the last digital transformation programme you were involved in.

In the first few months, what consumed the majority of your focus?

If you are like many of our clients, we suspect your answer is programme staffing. For example, you were either:

  • Preparing long briefs,
  • Chasing your agency,
  • Reviewing piles of CVs, or
  • Interviewing several people.

However, with a huge chunk of early activity on a programme spent on staffing, it probably meant there was less time to spend on programme delivery.

There is a conflict of interest here! This dilemma of whether to focus your attention on programme staffing OR programme delivery is what we call the Programme Staffing Paradox.

Recruitment is traditionally done role by role, and this fosters more chances of primary issues.

Best practice theory demands that your primary focus in the early stages of a programme should be on critical-to-success primary matters such a business change and stakeholder alignment.

Failing that, the odds of digital transformation success will be decimated.

Find out more about the Programme Staffing Paradox in our blog post, 5 Strategies To Transform Your Digital Transformation Programme.

What is the solution?

Access to on-demand talent is a high value and frequent need for programmes. However, programme staffing is time-consuming and 100s of hours can be spent on recruitment.

Helpfully, other ways of onboarding can solve this problem. For example, externally through a managed service provider (like with our Programme Interims Service).

Going down the managed service provider route almost directly eliminates the prospect of primary issues, at least in respect of programme staffing.

If the recruitment is outsourced, only one decision needs to be made: which managed service provider should we appoint? Think about how much time that will save you!

A reputable managed service provider will be focused and aligned with the programme objectives, helping to attract best-in-class professionals for your major programme. Increased focus on programme delivery will also enhance your chance of transformation success.

If organisations get it right they can set themselves up for sustained success. For example, according to the Boston Consulting Group, digital leaders achieve earnings growth that is 1.8 times higher than digital laggards.

Still not convinced?

Check out our blog article, Common Concerns about Outsourcing your Recruitment, where we look at some of the most common fears that people have about outsourcing their recruitment and give you our response to them.

What’s Next?

Many programmes apply a lot of time and effort in following organisational processes that may be cumbersome.

By outsourcing recruitment, programmes can eliminate the prospect of primary issues, and spend more time dealing with secondary issues.

To learn more on how you can avoid staffing issues, download our Programme Staffing Playbook.

Programme Staffing Playbook

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