3 Program Management Best Practices And Why They Work (Hint: Networks)

This is not a post about ‘how to network.’ Far from it: this is about the academic study of “networks” and how you can apply network principles to make your programs and projects successful. Interested? Read on.

The study of “networks” is an established field of academic work and is the basis of some very successful firms (Facebook, LinkedIn). In fact, study of networks has been applied to solve more complex and serious issues like assessing the general ‘health’ or fragility of an economy’s financial system.

You can apply network principles to manage your programs and projects more effectively, irrespective of your industry. Just to make it more tangible, let us assume that you are a broker-dealer organization developing a program to roll-out an industry regulation. Here are three network principles based best practices and their application in our hypothetical situation:

Best Practice #1 — Team Composition

When developing solutions/ products, make sure the working team includes not just subject matter experts, but also people that may not be close to the issue but are well connected with the program audience. While people from the same business unit may work well together, the latter group can bring related but diverse perspectives to the table and contribute towards a more holistic solution.

Why? (Networking principle at work): When accessing scarce information, the people/ nodes who are closely connected, i.e., have more things in common, are likely to have same set of information. People/ nodes who are loosely connected can provide greater range of information.

Application: When developing a solution for the industry regulation, beyond having Compliance and Supervision team representation ensure representation from Client Service team. The latter team, though may not be close to the regulation, will be able to anticipate potential advisor questions and help develop a program that proactively addresses advisor concerns.

Best Practice #2 — Ideation/ Collaboration

When requesting solution ideas or when evaluating solutions, make your team members submit their initial thoughts simultaneously rather than ‘go around the table.’ This will increase the chances of capturing more diverse perspectives or getting objective assessment respectively.

Why? (Networking principle at work): People in a network tend to conform due to the ‘Information cascade’ effect, also know as herding. When decisions are make sequentially, prior decisions influence subsequent decisions, leading to herding. E.g., When going around the table, you factor in the assessment of your predecessor in your own decision making process.

Application: When evaluating options for program roll out, request team members to provide their choice, their rationale and improvement suggestions to the project manager/ program coordinator at a pre-determined time before the meeting. The project manager can collate and share all feedback and evaluations for team discussion. This will reduce herding.

Best Practice #3 — Roll-out/ Implementation

To increase your chances of a successful campaign, ensure that the intended audience has an interest in the topic, a robust network of their own, and an incentive to take part.

Why? (Networking principle at work): Information can spread faster and be sustained longer through a network when the recipient is a) open to receiving the information, b) already has links to propagate the idea, and c) can and is motivated to spreading the idea to one or more people. When one of these criteria is not met, information in the network fizzles out.

Application: When rolling out the program to advisors, talk and recruit advisor ‘influencers’ — people who are respected and followed by advisors, those who are open minded and understand the implication of the regulation; Provide intangible incentives for these influencers to help build momentum for the program success.

While the impact of network principles has larger implications, they are equally relevant in business situations. Apply the above three best practices for your business programs and projects, knowing that their effect has been studied and documented.

S2E Consulting provides program management expertise that applies these and other best practices. Request a free no-obligation consultation to explore if S2E Consulting can help your business growth.

References: Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning About a Highly Connected World by David Easley and Jon Kleinberg

Originally published at s2econsulting.biz on July 20, 2015.