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Hit High Risk/Reward Programs Out-of-the-Park

50 years ago - following almost any reasonably structured process for new product development, or for internal improvement programs, could help create a business advantage for well-organized companies over their more chaotic competitors. Not so today. Most companies now have both kinds of process on paper, and to varying degrees, in practice. Advantage today comes from tailoring process to the dynamic needs of a particular business and opportunity - to yield:

  • The right process, not just any process with a catchy name

  • Leadership characteristics matched to the task

Drill Sergeants and their methods are suited to some problems, while Generals and their methods are suited to others. First evaluate the scope/importance and risk/complexity of each program in your portfolio. Several kinds of programs are profiled along those dimensions in the diagram below.

Risk is all about uncertainty of outcomes. Uncertainty comes from "hard" sources like developing a new technology and "soft" sources around how people respond to change and persuasion. An ERP transition or launch of a derivative product, for example, may entail much higher risk than usual if it involves heavy coordination across multiple companies in different countries, with different agendas, terminologies or varying levels of trust among participants. These kinds of uncertainty can often lead to surprises - and surprises demand adaptable process and creative leadership.

In a recent case illustrating this, TRG helped bring a cloud-based joint-venture (JV) product to market. Although both JV partners were highly capable of bringing their own products to market, the JV combination brought new risks and challenges. Partners brought differing strategic and operational objectives, functional and process strengths and weaknesses, Executive expectations of management metrics & methods, and mirror-image functional counterparts. This program demanded a "hybrid" process tailored for this specific product launch and a "Super Star" program manager to anticipate and proactively address issues at all levels in both organizations. Home run hitters quickly evaluate and effectively adapt to changes.

Take Action

A realistic appraisal of Program characteristics is the necessary precursor to getting the best results. Set high-level Process, Leadership and Management Oversight for Programs with the map below.

Selecting Program Leaders is part science and part art. High risk and high importance Programs need leaders, and teams for that matter, who can respond creatively and adaptively to change. "Super Star" leaders have a combination of high subject matter and emotional "IQ" along with the mindset to keep the strategic intent of the Program and the process in mind as they make creative adaptations in the face of surprises and disruptions. This rare combination sets them apart and raises their value as leaders for the most challenging Programs.

For more information on Program Management and Super Star Managers, email Kevin Steele at

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