Programme Assurance - Six key success factors 


Let’s consider the challenge - providing effective support to ensure your critical change programmes will deliver on time and to budget.


Many organisations are facing a challenge from the top to ensure more success from their change programmes - this is hardly surprising when less than half of those started are completed on time.


A commonly proposed answer to ease this pressure is to set up a central assurance team.


This may seem relatively straightforward, but there are many pitfalls and problems in doing so. Here we have highlighted six key success factors which anybody setting up an assurance team should consider.



Make sure that the team are seen to be objective, are ‘on side’, and

have the necessary sphere of influence

Not many of us take criticism well, and not all of us deal with criticism in the same way (think ugly baby syndrome). Accepting that there are issues in your programme, promoting them and ensuring they are addressed isn’t something that comes easily to most, so the challenge for assurance is a big one.

  • For this reason, assurance must be seen as being ‘inside the tent’, a trusted partner and certainly not ‘big brother’.

  • Whether sourced internally or externally the assurance function should ultimately be seen (especially by the programme teams and sponsors) to be striving for programme success.

  • An embedded team often loses its impartiality. Attempts to embed assurance directly into the programme delivery team often ends up with them ‘going native’, providing insufficient challenge and significantly diminishing their value.

  • The team should be focused on helping the delivery crew execute successfully with acceptable risk levels, and to do this effectively the team needs to protect itself by maintaining a high level of objectivity and its independence

  • It needs to be a team of experts. Many organisations suffer from a shortfall in the ability of assurance team members to effectively sell the benefits. It is not straightforward play and team members need to have real powers of influence, with the purpose, intelligence and gravitas to make the difference.



Don’t just tick the boxes, apply intelligence and take a flexible approach

Sorting the A team is easy. Team members will likely do the right things and do them well. Assuring the B or C team is much more difficult. And of course, every project and programme has a different set of challenges whether that’s team and stakeholder capability, the complexity of the landscape or the technical difficulty of the challenge itself

  • It seems throughout the project world that there is now widespread agreement that assurance should be outcome based, not just a ‘tick in the box’.

  • Assurance usually starts to provide a safety net by monitoring adherence to a controls framework, but although relatively easy to set up, the compliance measure is no guarantee of programme success.

  • In fact, some programme teams spend so much attention on meeting the control standards the real drivers are sometimes ignored.

  • So assurance teams need to morph (as does their approach) to fill the ever moving gap between the team’s delivery capability and the required capability for a successful outcome.

  • This requires flexibility and Project Intelligence on the part of the team members, to recognise the gaps and deliver appropriate analysis and insight to address them.


A big part often ignored is emotional intelligence

Teams need to recognise that individual emotions significantly impact the way many decisions are reached - assurance has to pick up on these aspects in addition to more logical, measurable factors