Brushing Your Teeth, Love, Governance and Programme Management


Like you, I’ve seen the adverts on television — “If you see blood when you brush your teeth, go to the dentist or risk gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss…” — Red is often associated with danger, stop, warnings and love.

I’ve loved all the projects I’ve worked on and reporting red has been a key element of the success of the project, however so many people shy away from calling it out red… but why?


My view is there is a general feeling that by reporting red the Project Manger sees themselves as failing, not delivering on what they have meticulously planned and communicated across internal and external stakeholders. Cultures within some organisations don’t support openness and don’t want to hear the truth. Project Managers in such organisations “hide” the problem through misreporting.

Let’s think about that problem, that delayed artefact, that component that is stuck in Japan or that new recruit that hasn’t started on the expected date. If the impact of the problem results in a significant delay to the project, it should be reported as red, anything else demonstrates a lack of control, a lack of reality and worse still a missed opportunity for support to help rectify the issue.

All the projects that I have loved have prevented such issues from Day 1. In my opinion the cornerstone for a successful project is strong programme governance, driven by the Project Manager and supported by an effective Project Management Office (PMO) driving effective controls and governance that support the Programme and Project Managers. They aren’t just there to book a meeting or take minutes, whilst helpful, it’s a waste of their time. Their real value comes from strong governance controls — defining and controlling the operation of the Programme. Covering all essential ingredients such as Plans, RAID, Change Processes, Artefact Management, Governance Forums & Committees, Budget, reporting and meeting cycles.

The PMO is the heartbeat of the Programme and when working in sync, they will know everything that is happening across all workstreams. They are then able to challenge Project Managers reporting and get underneath problems or delays. Using the formalised governance processes, issues can be escalated quickly and effectively.

That’s the ideal world. I’ve been really lucky working with some great teams and great people on some really exciting Programmes where the level of openness and strength of control has provided the necessary support.

Back to teeth and the worrying advert. You brush, you get blood — it’s not love any more, this is danger. The project isn’t in a good state and all tactical approaches have failed. When you go to the dentist you go through a few stages:

  • Check-up — what’s wrong? A similar approach can be used in the project. Undertaking a “health check” on your programme — either by an internal or external team, may identify areas that if changed will support the progress of the project.
  • Filling — we know what’s wrong, we need to fill the tooth. Within a project this is putting the programme into recovery. Often using the output from the health check to realign or reinvigorate the project.
  • Extraction — the tooth is not for saving! There are times when a project is no longer viable and the best option is to close it down as gracefully as possible, minimising impact across all stakeholders and potentially saving the company money!

I’ll continue to brush twice daily and flag any blood as soon as I see it!


Written by Paul Barrett, Senior Consultant.

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One of the Top 10 reasons for project failure is disregarding project warning signs