Category Archives: Masters of Delivery

Vision + Execution = Greatness

Vision is core to good leadership, and the best management. It is the essence of successful programs, the heart of effective transformation and the engine of innovation.

It is also what teams want from their leaders. James Kouzes and Barry Posner once wrote in the Harvard Business Review:

 “Being forward-looking—envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future—is the attribute that most distinguishes leaders from non-leaders. We know this because we asked followers.”

The Kennedy Commitment

One of my favourite examples of how an extraordinary vision can become reality is when Kennedy promised the world, before the US had even fifteen minutes of manned spaceflight experience:  “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
The Kennedy vision is truly remarkable because it was achieved, in full. The simple promise was turned to powerful reality by the leadership, intense focus and personal commitment of 400,000 people at peak.

Vision + Execution = Greatness

So, for me the essence of real leadership is precisely this combining of vision with the ability to execute. Another leadership thinker, Warren Bennis, once said:  “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
This is not straightforward. Many of us will have seen corporate vision or strategy documents that are strong on the Promised Land, but not the hardships and challenges of the journey to get there. Many good ideas come to grief on the cold, sharp-edged rocks of delivery.

Example: The Global Delivery Network

My own most intense experience of combining big vision and successful execution comes from building the Accenture Global Delivery Network, and, within that, its Indian Delivery Centres. Today, the company is one of the dominant players in India-based and global delivery of technology services. In hindsight, the journey seems inevitable, almost a slam-dunk. But it wasn’t always like this.We started practical work with a small core team of India leaders, Brits and Americans in late 2000, at the request of the charismatic, global head of Financial Services. He felt the intensity of coming global competition, and had the vision to take action.

This core team would become true masters of delivery and client service. They would achieve extraordinary things in their careers. (And to give credit were it is due, we were also strongly supported by experienced leaders in the US and Spain, reflecting the already global personality of the company. They would give us resources and counsel.)

Meeting in Mumbai

The initiative and initial investment was based on creation of an initial team of just 200 people. There are now 100,000s of people in the firm’s global delivery network. At the time that would have seemed to many the purest fantasy, although some of us had a glimmer of what might be possible. However, we were starting with a small step.
By the summer of 2001 had two clients and the 200 seats in the India city of Mumbai, only partially filled with people. Our initial task was getting close to completion. But we knew that our responsibility was much greater, and it was time to plan the next stage.
So in a meeting room in Mumbai, lit brightly by sunlight, we discussed want we wanted to achieve. We needed an aspirational vision but it needed to be practical, based on specific goals and achievements that we could easily communicate.

Vision on a Whiteboard

At the end of our discussion, I drew a whiteboard diagram to summarize and took a photo for future reference. I felt that it would be important, at least as a personal memento. In fact, it would years later be published in a celebration of the Indian team’s success. Although it was formalised and turned into detailed, properly costed plans, our simple whiteboard summary turned out to be a foundation stone.
The essence of this vision was what we needed to do to catalyse growth. Unlike typical start-ups, we were blessed with a vast and impressive existing channel. We needed scale and momentum, coupled with our first core offerings. We had to convince our salesforce and then our real clients we were credible in a new market. I had an instinct that once we passed that test of credibility, our growth rates would look exponential. And so it was to be. But first we had to get started.
So, the top half of the whiteboard looked like the following. (Our financial year ran from September to August, so Q1 of FY2002 starts in September 2001).

Simple Targets

This wasn’t a conventional vision or strategy. It was stripped down to a bare minimum of supply-side metrics. But it would serve its purpose. It covered the following:
  • CMM targets that refered to the 5-level Capability Maturity Model from the Software Engineering Institute located at Carnegie Mellon University. This aims to measure the quality of software delivery processes. The true value of CMM – and its descendents like CMMi – is subject to debate. However, it does require a rigorous focus on process and quality, and was essential to competing in this new market. We had to reach the highest levels of the model fast. These targets would soon evolve into a much more profound focus on offerings and industrialisation.
  • Most importantly, the diagram showed the headcount growth we wanted to achieve in the next two years – headcount would be a vital and simple metric of our progress. The goals we put down – given we were starting from scratch – were tough. We would have to keep the people we hired busy, engaged and chargeable. We were in essence already anticipating an exponential growth curve.
  • The diagram also shows our intent to move into three cities as part of building a platform for growth. Getting support for this rapid geographic expansion would not be easy, but it would provide flexibility and scalability. In fact we opened in 2002 in Bangalore, followed by Hyderabad a little later. Bangalore was destined to become a true global hub.

Building a Team

The second half of the board contained another diagram that I have also recreated below. It shows something else we realised very early on. We need a focus on building a team for the future, not simply a collection of new resources, but a group of people – a real team – who shared a strong sense of culture and common cause. Slide2-001

Communicating the Vision

We now had goals that were hard to achieve, but inspirational for our core team, easy to measure and simple to communicate. This was also fundamental. As PeterDrucker once said: “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” We needed to be able to straightforwardly tell our story and our intent to a team freshly hired, and get them to become leaders in a  long journey of transformation. We used our whiteboard goals as the anchor for that process.

Start-Up Days

Work started very practically, with the joys and stresses of any good start-up. One of team – who was destined to become a much respected Senior Managing Director – help dig the cable trenches in the tarmac outside the main building. We built our first big client meeting room the day before our first big client meeting. Recruiting was hard at first. Really hard. We hadn’t built our brand in the relevant technology talent pools. We did have a thriving local consulting practice. However, we were unknown to the people we needed for tech work. The vision helped. So did phone calls and events with candidates, their parents and families to show our intent, and the possibilities ahead. Our India leaders worked hard to sell our story, and with passion. Good people began to join us.

A Key Test

Then came a moment that I have written about before, but remains a pivot point of this slice of history. We had reached 500 people, and acquired more space. Overall, with a little difficultly, we had balanced demand and supply effectively. Our HR team had made a brilliant start. Now demand for people was increasing. We were beginning to see supply challenges. It was the start of the exponential growth curve I had expected, hoped for and feared, just a little. I asked our talented local leaders this: Although, it has taken eighteen months to grow to 500 peoplewe need to hire 500 people in the next five weeks. Can you do it? Those who have built and worked in start-ups know how hard an ask this was. And what the mood of that meeting, when a world of pain and hard work was opening up before us? It was tremendous – full of energy and laughter. They had a can-do, will-do attitude”  and were committed to the vision. They went for it. We hired many HR contractors, and arranged for virtual interviews across the globe. We created a large war room with white boards to record real-time status. And then we held interviews, thousands of times. By the end of the period they had made 526 offers to good candidates. This was a break through moment. The India team went to trounce all the targets in the initial strategy. They had a vision, they had executed well.  When we found a rare moment to reflect, we all felt we had shared in a period of great accomplishment.

Evolving the Vision

After that we adapted the vision and strategy on a six-monthly basis. It become a regular part of our process, both in India and globally. We looked ahead at our business challenges and opportunities, at what innovations were possible and what offerings would drive growth. We worked on horizons of now (immediate issues), three months, 12 months and 3-5 years. As a result, we drove higher levels of industrialisation, delivery innovation and accountability. We added a strong focus on business and industry skills. We opened in seven cities, and introduced ways of dealing with huge scale. We introduced offshore approaches to consulting and systems integration, beyond the normal outsourcing focus of global delivery. Throughout the focus remained on vision and execution.

Looking to the Future

What of the future? Global delivery models are now part of the fabric of IT services.  They are standard, and expected. However, as always, there is new opportunity on the horizon. This is not so much from fashionable digital business models. These are important,  but even more important is the systematic underlying change from an old world of devices and systems to a new universe of services and infinite sharing in the cloud. Agility becomes possible at scale in ways it never has before, and our connection with technology will be completely transformed. So, there is still plenty of scope for leadership that combines ambitious vision, and successful execution. There are still histories to be made.

Keith Haviland

Keith Haviland is a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network.  Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.

Stewardship: A Fundamental Part of Good Leadership

“The price of greatness is responsibility.”– Winston Churchill

Meetings in Hollywood and London

The meeting was over drinks in the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. It was with an old friend who I had worked for in the late 1980s. He was then leading a technology start-up in London, specialising in UNIX and Open Systems. The company was a true prototype for the eCommerce and Digital start-up waves of the 21st Century. It was tech-savvy, youthful, ambitious and diverse. It had energy and pzazz.

It became a business success, and was sold in 1990. It was also a cultural success. People liked working there. Even today in 2015 there are occasional re-unions of the core team.

My friend had then moved to LA to try his luck in the world of film. Again he had successful, and now lives in a Spanish style villa in the Hollywood Hills.

We spoke about his plans, and mine. It wasn’t long before I realized that, although I hadn’t worked with him for twenty years or so, he wanted me to develop and be successful. He still felt his old loyalty to his previous team.

Cut to another scene. It is a few weeks later. I am having lunch in London with another old friend, someone I have worked for a little more recently. He had been a respected leader in both commerce and public service. Again, I felt that same sense of support, and quiet, steady belief. Here was someone who wanted others to succeed almost as a natural reflex.



This led me to reflecting on what I think is one of the most essential qualities of good leaders: stewardship.

One of my alma maters is Accenture, a company who organize people on a global scale. It has a set of simple core values intended to help define its culture. To paraphrase, these include: integrity; respect for people as individuals; a focus on acting as a team; excellence and, above all, prioritizing client service.

And as an instruction to leaders, this set of values also includes the word stewardship – which means a focus on the greater good, thinking of the future, and the development of the people around you. It has been a fundamental element of that company’s long history, arising from its origins as a partnership.

Over the years, and across companies, I have had the privilege to work with many good leaders, and the best naturally adopt a stewardship style. They care about the future of both their business and their team with a natural grace and enthusiasm. Above all, they think about the motivations, development and careers of the people who work for them.

This does not need to be at the expense of being able to make tough calls. Indeed some of the best stewards are also courageous. One leader who worked for me in building the Accenture Global Delivery Network was a red-blooded operator – able to direct without hestitation, and do the hard things at scale. He is one of the masters of delivery it has my privilege to work with.  However, he also ensured that the bi-annual performance management process of a large group of people was undertaken with a huge amount of care, professionalism and objectivity. The views of his own leadership team were fully taken into account, and balanced. When it mattered, he acted as a steward. It impressed me, and a great many others, enormously.

Aspects of Stewardship


There economic models of stewardship cultures in enterprises, and a whole literature on “servant leadership.” However, what follows is my personal definition of major attributes of stewardship, written as advice for leaders and potential leaders.

  • A combination of strong values and an inspiring vision, communicated well. The vision is essential for setting a direction. It should be adaptable, but stable enough to allow consistent execution. The values will enable you to handle change, and trouble, and create the foundations of the culture you aim to build.
  • Loyalty. By this, I mean the loyalty of leaders to their teams. Great teams can be created when people know you “have their back”, that what you say is what you mean, and you want them as individuals to progress and prosper. Loyalty is something best returned, rather than exhorted or demanded.
  • Courage. It is important to have the skills to deal with challenges and failures in a positive way. This can mean being simple and direct about bad news, or poor performance. Truth is at the heart of delivery and learning. Courage can also mean a leader constructively standing up to his own boss when poor decisions are being made – since even great people will make poor calls.
  • A relentless focus on recognition. People thrive when their achievements or hard-work are celebrated. It is a core part of what most individuals will want out of their career. And sometimes a simple thank you is plenty enough. It still amazes me how many of those in management positions don’t recognize the value of this kind of simple engagement. As with loyalty, give credit, and you earn it back.
  • An unyielding emphasis on development. If you want long-term growth, you need to develop your team, and build a flexible leadership bench for the future. You need to worry about the progress of each individual, and what skills or encouragement they each need to succeed. This is much broader than succession planning, which often has a narrow, static focus. Indeed, when a company starts treating its middle management as an economic issue that is ultimately a failure of top leadership and their stewardship foresight.
  • Forward thinking. The job of a leader is to make sure future challenges are anticipated, offerings are adapted to changing markets, and structures flex with growth. As I was building the Accenture Global Delivery Network, I made myself think frequently about horizons of 3 months, 12 months and five years. It worked well, during a long and exhilarating period of quasi-exponential growth.
  • Providing an environment in which good can be done. When I started working with people in India, the Philippines and other developing countries, I was very struck by the intense enthusiasm for supporting local communities, and for giving something back. It was humbling, and inspirational. This taught me the importance of making sure a sense of the common good was part of the cultural fabric. Such a culture will start many experiments in achieving excellence in client-service, improvements in training, initiatives in diversity, and action to help the community and environment. And some of these experiments will work.



What are the benefits of stewardship?

It creates the kind of positive culture where teams want to deliver excellence in client service, and continuous improvement. It enables long-term growth because you naturally create a bench of leaders able to take your place. It creates an almost unconscious loyalty, with high levels of engagement, and lower levels of attrition. And your future leaders will develop their own sense of stewardship.

It creates open channels of communication, because people work in an atmosphere of trust. It can make a real impact on local communities through an effective corporate social responsibility program. In the end you can create a place where people aspire to work, to serve and progress.

Conversely, toxic leaders who are interested in personal position first and foremost will often do a great deal of damage, and can leave ineffective teams behind them. And even formerly respected leaders who break a bond of trust can see the morale and performance of their teams drop dramatically.

However, the final message is an immensely positive one. Stewardship cultures feel right. They also are right – bringing great benefits in culture and client-service. Above all, they bring the ability to grow, at scale and in the long-term, in a dynamic and changing world.

Keith Haviland

Keith Haviland is a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network.

Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.



When Speed and Agility Matter: Moving with the Lightning

Episode 3 of the Masters of Delivery

 The Problem of Time

I’ve spent much of my career focused on how to plan and manage one of the most precious and complex resources: time – and especially how time relates to project scale and complexity.

In software development and technology-driven business projects, one of the clearest and most dramatic trade-offs is between speed and cost. There is a simple rule: the shorter the schedule, the bigger the total effort, and associated cost. The dynamics of organizing and connecting people around common processes will become increasingly stressed when time is tight. The scope for error and rework increases significantly.

Indeed, there are schedule and scale combinations that are simply impossible to achieve, for which – to coin a phrase from the great Fred Brooks – there is no silver, magic bullet. Rome, an Olympic stadium, and even average size software projects cannot be built in a day.

 When faced with demands for impossible schedules, where the balance of scope and schedule simply do not fit, I normally take people through the complex dynamics of time and teams. I stress the need for a proper amount of time to understand a business and develop a design, and the option of delivering function in iterations so that some benefit can be gained earlier.

One Year Vs. Five Years

Conversely, as Peter Drucker once said: We greatly overestimate what we can accomplish in one year. But we greatly underestimate what we can accomplish in five years.”  

Five years or more gives enough time for big change, enough time to create a business or even a market.

One personal example of that is when I was part of the team that founded Accenture’s India Delivery Centres in 2001. We had a short-term plan focused on 200 people, but I also drew out a longer-term plan on a whiteboard that spanned three to four years and would get us to 10,000 people in multiple cities. It captured our strategic intent. We would meet both plans.

Moving with the Lightning

However, there are times when magic will work, when external events demand a schedule that is improbably short and – even more remarkably – the right team with the right motivation and the right support achieves that timescale. Such moments can create real belief in a program or team, leading to greater success at ever larger scales. The insights learned from these experiences can also help people think through agility, an increasing demand from many senior leaders in our hyperactive era.

So, it is those moments when teams move with the lightning, when great things are done fast, that I want to explore in what follows. Let’s start with the inspiration for this article – a spaceship.

America’s First Spaceship

I was researching the history of NASA Mission Control. This was for a potential film project, and also out of simple curiosity about how the great and mighty NASA machine of the 1960s and early 70s was created.

One of the key sources is the book Flight: My Life in Mission Control by Christopher Kraft who conceived and built the first versions of NASA mission control. It is a book that tells the human and organizational story of the space program, and one I would recommend to any student of delivery.

The following sequence jumped out at me, around the Request for Proposal or RFP process for America’s first manned spacecraft – the Mercury capsule.

It was this:

  • 1st October 1958, NASA created
  • 7th November 1958, RFP Published and RFP conference
  • 12th January 1959, contract awarded to McDonnell Aircraft Corporation
  • Early February 1959, McDonnell sign contracts

By today’s standards, this is extraordinarily fast. It is genuinely astounding. This is not the RFP for an IT system, or office supplies. It is an RFP for a spaceship.

In a matter of weeks, the direction for America’s first manned space program had been set and a partner selected. The Mercury program had initial challenges – such as an infamous unmanned flight that reached a height of 4 inches – but overall it succeeded completely, and with the knowledge and expertise created America would reach the moon less than 11 years after NASA was created.

Kraft himself summarizes the spirit of the times with That can-do, will-do attitude preceded us everywhere we went.”

This incredible example demonstrates some of the themes we will explore later in the article: strong mission, strong leadership, great skills and motivation.

Above all it shows that there are times when great things can indeed be done quickly.

The Move: 3 Weeks and 300 Very Busy People

This example is not nearly so grand. It didn’t change broad history, but it did help create a major technology delivery centre, and a new business. It was, by normal corporate standards, a magnificent achievement.

We had started our new business in a charming, worn art-deco style building beside the Thames. We were in the midst of a major software development, with 300 people designing, developing and testing releases of a major software product. The work in total was tens of thousands of days. Testing in particular is very sensitive to environment – the software configurations, networks, workstation and server technology need to be absolutely correct, and the physical space needs to support intense teamwork on the grand scale.

Although the building faced the river, it was cheap to rent. And the reason it was cheap – which I didn’t know at the time – was that there was a one-month notice period in the lease.

Our facilities people had deemed it unlikely to happen. Their judgement was usually faultless, but this time they were wrong. The owner wanted to rebuild, and start demolition soon.

So, one day we faced just over 3 weeks for a move – with no target future building and no plan, and 300 people working hard on a tough schedule for multiple clients. As we expanded, we would develop true business continuity and would be able to handle loss of a facility with ease, but this was early in our history.

We had an immense problem.

The first task was not to panic, or analyse quite why we were where we were. As we have seen in previous articles, status is to be understood with blunt honesty, and issues are there to be managed.

As for the next task, I asked a true Master of Delivery – “RK” – to plan and execute the move. RK had an exceptional grasp of the full technology stack – from the wires to the complex distributed software environment. He also understood what an objective meant, and would work with enormous passion towards that.

I asked him to target just one day – the move day – of down time for the team. RK smiled.

Key Strands

So, we created a plan around a number of parallel strands that RK would operate with complete authority.

Strand 1 was creating the mission, and instilling a sense of belief about the date. We wanted people to feel that their efforts would help make a little corporate history.

Strand 2 was about people. We staffed key roles immediately with some of our best, taking a short term hit on other activities. We chose those who had general management skills, and precision, since we needed delegation to be effective. We would expect everyone to be hands-on – acting much like people do in start-ups.

Strand 3 was a search for a suitable empty space. We looked in what in London is called mid-town, between the West End and the City. It was less fashionable then than it is these days, and we found three spaces of the right scale and cost. Two were dreadful – cramped spaces in out-dated concrete buildings, that would require much work. One, however, was acceptable. This was the key piece of luck we needed. We had found our future home – an Edwardian building near London’s legal district.

Strand 4 was design. We established the minimum design around building layout, furniture, a LAN, working servers and wide area communications. That was placed under firm control. Any change would be reviewed carefully.

Strand 5 was to focus on logistics with true military precision. We analysed lead times, placed orders – leased and borrowed equipment that wouldn’t arrive on time – and asked our suppliers to make the extra effort to support us.

And then, came the daily grind of execution. We met the deadline, and had people working effectively on the first day of operation of the new building. We lost only a few hours of productive work.

And it turned out that the technology design was not only effective … it was near perfect. RK had poured all his knowledge into the design, and we had no time for the usual compromises.

“500 in 5”

This is an example that I come back to repeatedly in my thinking, a key moment in my experiences in creating large delivery centres in India, and a lesson in how to get teams to do incredible things.

We had been in operation for around 18 months, reaching 500 people. This had required sustained effort since our business was then not widely known among our target talent pool. We had worked hard with candidates, even explained ourselves to their families, and organized dedicated training and conference days to attract people to apply. Overall, with a little difficultly, we had balanced demand and supply effectively. Our HR team had made a brilliant start.

Now things were changing and demand was increasing. We were beginning to see supply challenges.

I wanted to understand trends – I always want to understand trends since part of any leadership role is looking ahead – and went through the data in detail.

The reason for the new demand for people was a large, recent increase in active and potential clients. We had established a successful business. We were seeing the early days of a much larger future increase – the work at each new client would likely grow, and need more people.

Exponential Change

We had reached a tipping point. Roughly speaking, we were seeing the beginnings of an exponential, non-linear trend. Most people will naturally plan around linear and steady change, but with positive feedback, human enterprises can go through remarkable and fast changes – creating echoes of the growth of the Internet, the progress of a hit single, or viral video. The topic of exponential, human change is a topic I will be returning to in later articles.

The good news was that we had what seemed to be the start of a tremendous opportunity. The bad news was that we needed a non-linear response.

Setting the Goal

We had a talented local leader who was strong, charismatic and a true business builder. Our local HR lead was one of the most positive and dedicated professionals I have ever had the privilege to work with. They had been carefully chosen, and in their different ways they were both Masters of Delivery. They would go on to make very major contributions.

I asked them this. Although, it has taken eighteen months to grow to 500 people, we need to hire 500 people in the next five weeks. Can you do it?

Those who have built and worked in start-ups know how hard an ask this was. Talent is the key resource and often the key constraint.

And the mood of that meeting? When a world of pain and hard work was opening up before us. It was tremendous – full of energy and laughter. They had that can-do, will-do attitude” Chris Kraft had seen at NASA.

They went for it. We briefed the team … making it their moment of making history. We hired good contractors to support the core professionals. We arranged for virtual interviews from people across the globe. We created a large war room, dotted with white boards to record real-time status.

And then we filtered CVs and held interviews, thousands and thousands and thousands of times.

By the end of the period they had made 526 offers to good candidates. They had beaten the target. They had made their own piece of history. And after that, the team knew what they were capable of, and created one of the best large-scale recruiting engines in India, eventually capable of hiring many thousands a month.

General Principles

So, what general threads can we pull out of my three very different examples? When can a leader or business ask for remarkable efforts in a remarkable short time frame?

My conclusions are as follows (although I would also be delighted to hear your thoughts). They are similar to the Ten Commandments we saw in Episode 2 of Masters of Delivery, but tuned completely to very rapid execution.

  1. This cannot be business as usual. Remarkable effort should be reserved for times of remarkable need. The examples we have looked it where against the background of the space race, or clear, urgent, business challenges.
  2. But in such times, it will sometimes pay-off enormously to have ambition and the courage to ask for that remarkable effort.
  3. Judgement is essential to make sure the undertaking has the right characteristics to succeed. Suitable examples include:
  • The work can be undertaken by a small number of experts. For example, it was possible to create a high-level spacecraft design in weeks. Building the spacecraft would take another two years (superb in itself).
  • Or the work can be scaled and duplicated across people and teams – as in our recruiting example.
  • It is self-contained, with few external dependencies.
  1. There must be a clear mission, a worthwhile purpose. This must be communicated to everybody. And people enjoy doing great things; enjoy making their own pieces of history – so communicate to inspire.
  2. The mission must be understood, valued and supported by the team. It’s hard to ask people to work long hours. It is much easier and much more effective to ask them to work for a goal.
  3. Assign the best team. It is remarkable how many projects fail, even mission critical ones, because hard choices about resources are not made. When timescales are fundamental, staff your best people and clear their decks. Less urgent issues will wait.
  4. And “best team” means people with experience – in every one of our three examples,the teams were led and staffed by people who had prior experience of great relevance.
  5. Above assign a qualified leader – a leader and subject matter expert – and concentrate authority in that person.
  6. Create a simple plan, simple reporting – whiteboards can be the most powerful tool for management – and a simple decision making process for issues and changes.
  7. Look after the team – get the key stakeholders or senior executives to spend time with them, deal with food and transport issues generously, give them support staff without hesitation.

Keith Haviland is a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services.
He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network.
 Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.

Masters of Delivery, Episode 2 : Ten Commandments for Successful Program Delivery

This article provides guidance for those leading or working in a large program. Its original name was WB and the Tablets of Stone until I went for something more directly informative. We’ll see why in a moment.

Let’s introduce WB first.

WB is another Master of Delivery I am privileged to know – a natural results-driven program manager, who can instinctively drive the largest projects and programs to completion. He has a flair for action, for handling scale and a gritty humour. He is a kind of Indiana Jones or Hans Solo of program management. So, in a galaxy a not so long time ago …


We faced two years of hard work on a major program across much innovative software development, and data conversion of records covering the activities of millions of people. This would be followed by re-casting business processes from customer billing to how a set of large call centres operated. As many will know, a large call centre quickly goes off the rails with any system problem. Even with good fallback procedures, work queues can build rapidly and customers will hang on the phone for what seems like interminable periods.

In short, the new system would drive almost the entirety of our client’s business. It was high risk. And to create and deploy it, we would assemble a large team – around 400 at peak – across technologists, business people, operations and executives. It was a team of teams.

Defining Goals, Culture and Behaviour

WB and I wanted a simple way of defining and communicating our goals, and the culture and behaviours we wanted. As WB would put it, ‘the job of leadership is to create an environment in which people can succeed’, and the ten commandments became one of the major vehicles for achieving this.

This is a common management pattern. Many projects summarize their approach in ten bullet points. Indeed, I once informed a very capable member of a Quality Team that there was a typo in the ten commandments of Quality they had just published – there were just nine. That document was republished fast.

Good Ideas Get Reused

Our “commandments” were to strike an unusual chord with the team, who liked them, and bought into the aspiration they represented.. They are distinctive in their focus on team behaviour. They push control and issue resolution into the team (although ultimate accountability must still reside with program leadership).There is nothing on method, process or technique, although these were important in the background. In essence, these commandments were about creating a mission, a team and a driven culture of success, at scale.

As is often the case with things that work, our ten commandments become viral across a wide community. They have been used, with scant modification, on many projects. They are still being used.

And the reason for the sub-title of WB and the Tablets of Stone is that we came very close to having them engraved on real stone tablets. We had got our mad scheme costed, and we had chosen the shape of the tablets. We thought this little bit of theatre would help get the message across. In the end, we decided we were getting a little too impressed with ourselves, and went for a more portable presentation.

The Ten Commandments

These were the ten commandments:

  1. Meet Your Promises
  2. Act as One Team.
  3. Aim to be Exceptional, Exceed Targets
  4. Understand and Report True Status
  5. Finished Means Finished – Never Leave Problems Unresolved
  6. Take Full Ownership. Ask, Escalate, Push
  7. Be Ready for Change
  8. Learn
  9. Take Pride. Have Fun. Celebrate Success.
  10. Meet Your Promises

Let’s look at each one in detail.

  1. Meet Your Promises

We wanted a huge focus on what the client needed, what would make them successful and what had been agreed. Our promises were therefore the target scope, the schedule and the cost budget. We wanted that to be in the thoughts of our team, every minute of every hour of every hard-working day.

I think this is fundamental. It is the foundation principle for all good delivery.

Scope, schedule and budget eventually become commitments, and not eternal items of negotiation. Indeed base-lining is a key management skill. Program leaders will always have to handle change, but must keep the baseline in mind. And they should instill that can do mentality in their teams. That attitude builds client or business trust, and so makes easier the hard times when tough decisions are necessary. In fact, we shared the ten commandments with our clients. We wanted them to be part of the mission.

As part of this, all programs need a purpose that is easy to understand and communicate. Every individual team-member should understand the promises they are supporting. At one level a Concorde is hundreds of thousands of precision components. The simple goal however was to fly passengers supersonically and safely. Any worthwhile program should be easily summarizable. The fine details should also be communicated. Understanding scope, and the basics of any contract, should be a goal for each individual.

  1. Act as One Team.

A team of teams automatically means boundaries. These boundaries can be complex – within a software development team, between the dev team and the business, between a business and its suppliers, between a team and services operated in a cloud, or simply between physical locations.

The challenges that result include: simple blame games, high politics, schoolchild howler style misunderstandings, Everest-sized integration issues, subtle cultural problems and more.

One of my great insights was running a leadership team that consisted of good individuals – actually great individuals – who simply did not function as a team. Boundaries became patrolled borders. With enormous reluctance, I had to change things.

We will look at some of these situations in later articles. Things that will bind a team together include:

  • A simple set of goals (like the ten commandments!)
  • A decent scope definition
  • A good architect who understands links between teams
  • A plan that may be hard, but is believable
  • Good management
  • Good connections with the business
  • Dealing with personality and ego issues, especially in leadership roles
  • Creating a community, and celebrating success

Above all, the aim should be for a culture that encourages the building of trust. It always has to be earned via praxis, but must always be expected.

  1. Aim to be Exceptional, Exceed Targets

 We wanted people to aim high for themselves, and for the team. We especially wanted to avoid the kind of foggy ennui you can find on large programs.

Part of premise is this. Setting specific goals generates higher levels of performance than general goals, and the higher the target the more a person will do to reach that target [this comes from the research of Edwin Locke at the University of Maryland.]

One of my best personal examples of this comes from elsewhere, from my experiences in creating large delivery centres in India. It took our team eighteen months to grow to 500 people. Then potential demand started to increase exponentially. We could have gotten away with continued moderate growth, but I asked the team to aim very high and recruit the next 500 people in the next five weeks. Importantly, I let them go away to think about it.

They went for it. They worked almost 24×7 for five weeks, with a short break for an important cricket match.

By the end of the period they had made 526 offers to good candidates. They had made their own piece of history. And after that, the team knew what they were capable of, and created one of the best large-scale recruiting engines in India. We will return to this example in a future article.

  1. Understand and Report True Status

To this, we added the text:

Good News = +2 points

Bad News = -1 point

Wrong News = – 1 billion points

 This usually raises a smile. It is meant to. Gentle humour is one of the best ways of communicating. But the point it makes is deeply serious. In any team of teams, responsibility and control should be distributed. That is the most effective approach, and it requires transparency and trust.

Good progress is always good. But bad news is useful because something can be done about a known problem. Bad news will also often uncover systematic issues – in the design, the development process, or similar. As we saw in Episode 1 of Masters of Delivery, all programs are about forming a plan and then managing the issues.

 It is wrong news that is poisonous to a large program, and wrong news can be generated by a good team, proud of what they are doing, who want to fix their issues before they become visible.

The test of a team and its management is always through tough times – times I once described as when the sky is dark with the wings of headless chickens coming home to roost.

So, WB and I spent time building this culture of No Surprises, and creating a sense of accountability for knowing status, being transparent and feeling able to report trouble. Above all we wanted people to have the courage to ask for help.

That also requires a certain generosity in management who equally need to view bad news as useful. I would go further: the primary job of management in execution is to help their team with issues

  1. Finished Means Finished – Never Leave Problems Unresolved.

Any team-based process, and certainly any large program, is a series of queues as work moves through the hands and minds of team members. So, any hold-ups have knock on effects. The trick to managing schedule is to get issues resolved fast, so work moves through the system as planned.

A team I once adopted on another project had been stuck in functional design for more than a year. Everything was work in progress. As so often is the case, the team was good. The issue was that there was no systematic connection with the users or key business sponsors, and rather than fix that, every time a design got stuck, new work was started. To resolve the issue, we built bridges and followed a systematic closedown plan in a defined sequence. It worked.

Another well-known aspect is phase containment. Larger projects will almost always consist of releases divided into phases – such as design, build, and test. Problems and gaps in design or requirements will be ruthlessly punished in later testing.

The essence of all of this is to avoid the 90% complete syndrome. The implied remaining 10% is most often the hard, expensive stuff to fix. To quote a British advertising slogan, “Finished” should mean “what it says on the tin.”. Finished should mean finished, completed, done.

Fixing hard problems when they are discovered is almost always the fastest and cheapest tactic.

  1. Take Full Ownership. Ask, Escalate, Push

 With the sub-text: Email alone does not count

 WB and I faced a tough schedule. Our plans were achievable, but they were also hard. We needed a dynamic culture, and a positive buzz in our team. In particular, we wanted people to:

  • Feel they owned their own work fully, and were responsible for completing it
  • Have a sense of reasonable urgency, not to be passive or overly patient in an ‘awaiting’ status.

We especially wanted to avoid seeing the sending of an email as a significant action, or as introducing an allowable delay. We also wanted people to feel free to use management when a decision was needed, – without that seeming an issue between peers. Debate and differences are not conflict, but part of any large team.

This an important topic in a globalizing world where sub-teams will be routinely located in different places, shifted by many time zones. Each sub-team has to take direct responsibility for its own work – but also work hard on interacting effectively with other teams in other locations.

  1. Be Ready for Change

 Change is universal – we cannot escape the second law of thermodynamics. Larger programs are prone to being impacted by change, because they will run for months and years. Change can include:

  • Passionate support for new requirements
  • Unexpected changes in the business, which can result in new work, reduced budgets or cancellation
  • Regulation changes
  • Sponsors getting replaced with people with different ideas

There is much modern thinking around Agile development, which embraces change, and creates cross-functional teams that work in short iterations. This suits certain types of problem, at a certain scale, but there will always be larger projects with a different rhythm.

The key message in this commandment is be ready. It is a job of a project manager or program leader to handle issues and change well, and not let change become mindless, infinite churn. Projects can plan for change via contingency and specific change windows in projects with multiple releases.

The level of engineering of any approach to handle change depends on project scale, but the following will always be required.

  • An anchor – a baseline – from which the impact of change can be judged
  • Adaptability and resilience in program leadership
  • Contingency and change windows
  • A process for tracking and making decisions about change understood by business sponsors
  • An architect or architect team who can assess impacts across a whole system
  1. Learn

 What did we mean by this? One part was personal. We wanted team members, and the client people we worked with to be successful, and to learn from the experience.

Again, the team dimension was critical. WB and I had three releases ahead of us. We needed the team to learn as a whole so we could:

  • Apply insights to improve business functionally
  • Innovate around tools and environments
  • Understand and avoid the first time through issues with Release 1
  • Gather actual metrics against estimates to improve future planning and set productivity and quality improvement targets.

Learning also gives the chance for senior members of the team to demonstrate stewardship by coaching, and handing on their own experience and insights.

The phrase Continuous Improvement captures some of this, but it is dry, implying process improvement. I prefer the more human notion of a learning team, learning collectively and at individual level.

  1. Take Pride. Have Fun. Celebrate Success

 Any team becomes a community. Any large team is likely to be a young community, given the way such teams are built-up, capable of great energy and commitment.

Building a team “brand” around the purpose of a program, and its attitude and results is one step in accessing that energy. Communication of clear goals, and creating that sense of making history will help here.

A healthy level of having fun, of good social interaction also helps make a good team, and although it doesn’t have to be managed, it needs to be recognized as important and supported. It is particularly necessary in today’s global teams, and I would recommend starting any distributed relationship with physical meetings where people can get to know each other, and allow time for social events.

The third element in this commandment is about recognition. Those familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will remember than esteem and recognition rank highly. People thrive on doing good work, which is noticed and celebrated.

Celebration can be real time. Testing management requires a unique approach, and one talented leader I know used a bell to mark when a test pass had been successful. As a result, applause rippled through his team several times a day. On the last day of testing, the final ring of the bell generated a standing ovation – including from our clients.

Celebration can be personal – public and deserved notes of praise or thanks go a long way. It can be a formal event to mark a major team success.

Create the right spirit, and the rewards are long-term – team-members will work with each other again and again. Such self-sustaining communities, especially if they are open, are powerful, and valuable.

10. Meet Your Promises

 We end where we started. Any program is about a set of promises: to your client or business users, your own team if you have one, and your own management. Great delivery is about meeting all these promises, and learning a little something yourself.

 Get something done, and make a little history, today.



Keith Haviland is a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services.
He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network.
Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.

Masters of Delivery, Episode 1: Leon Makes a Plan, Manages the Issues

Sometimes the most profound points are the simplest. This article is about the essential foundation of achieving good or extraordinary delivery results from any major program or project. Make a plan, manage the issues. This is the essence of project management, and program management.

Let’s take a real example – rather a small one by some standards, but one that reflects a common experience in software development.


The context was this. I had been given responsibility for a very large program to develop a software and business solution for a number of British utilities. That program had started a number of months back, and was troubled. The original plan has been created with misaligned expectations between the parties involved – expectations around the balance of scope, schedule and budget. That took careful, close work with the clients and suppliers involved to unpick. In the end, the program would be delivered just under the revised budget I had planned, and the solution would support at peak near 25% of UK electricity production.

An Impossible Schedule?

But that lay in what seemed a distant future. Right now, I was deep in discussion with my good friend Leon. Leon would himself go on to become a true master of deliveryand lead gigantic programs for significant and global clients. But on that particular day we faced the daunting task of testing and fixing the business functionality of a vast system in just 8 weeks to fit in with our complex overall schedule, a schedule determined as always by business dates. The test phase alone would involve the work of around 100 people, including our clients. It was the critical path on which all else depended.

How to decompose the problem? And to ensure success? Leon and I spoke at great length. The insight we had was simple, but critical. We had to form the best plan we could, then manage the inevitable issues that would arise given scale and speed.

Planning and Preparing …

The core plan was formed using a standard estimating model, but we knew we had to prepare to manage the coming issues, defects and changes exceptionally well. So, we added or extended the following:

  1. Systems and resources to record status by individual tester, individual software defect and much more. We wanted to have perfect insight into exactly where we were, and in a way that wasn’t a burden on the team.
  2. Earned value tracking that showed how much we had achieved versus the ambition of the plan. We wanted to know exactly how well we were doing.
  3. The technical capability to create almost an arbitrary number of virtual testing environments. In these days of the cloud, this would have been much easier. However, even with more primitive tools, we very deliberately invested in understanding and then provisioning what we needed. We made sure we could rebuild the application fast. We wanted to make show intellectual effort wasn’t held up by basic resource constraints.
  4. Automated regression testing. Even today, this is a build effort that many try to avoid. But there is no better way of ensuring that a system remains stable as it is changed via multiple paths, and by multiple hands. We wanted to ensure we always had a working application, and did not accidently break it.
  5. A twice-daily meeting structure that focused only on issues and their resolution.We wanted nothing to slow down the rhythm of progress.

Communication, Building Support, Making Culture

And then came more expectations management. We took the team – across suppliers and client personnel, from junior developer through to board level sponsors, through our plan. We would need their help. We wanted no surprises in status. We wanted people to own their issues, to pro-actively seek resolution and not hand-off trouble in emails. We needed our clients to support the drive for schedule, while we needed to support the drive for accurate scope and a system that would work functionally. The hard cultural and client work we had put in paid off. We gained much support.

We were exceptionally well prepared.

Wheels, Buses …

So, we started our eight weeks of test execution. Even assuming a 7-day week, each day represented almost 2% of schedule.

This was scary stuff, but we were exceptionally well prepared.

The first day didn’t go well. This was probably fine. Any new undertaking will have teething issues. Then the second day passed, and progress was slower than the plan demanded. Maybe that was fine as well. It was still early days.

A week passed. Almost 13% of schedule. We were 50% behind were we planned to be. This was a major issue. The traffic lights on our status reports glared red. A dark cloud settled over the team. This was the time when temptation may make leaders bang tables, and add extra people without the time to train them.

The Team Looks for Solutions …

But issues are there to be managed, and not all risks can be predicted. So Leon looked at the data, and spoke to his team. The team’s insight was of course the most valuable, and they weren’t defensive. They had been well trained. They were looking for solutions.

Leon and the team made the following changes, with precision:

  • Increased the number of test environments even more
  • Made productivity improvements to a test data tool
  • Gave two hours training on test data to the team
  • Introduced even finer reporting, not so much to give management extra visibility, but to allow the teams to see hourly and daily inch progress. And that we made visible on whiteboards, so all could see progress.

We had included the smallest amount of schedule contingency in the planned. We used it, and recast the plan.

We started to meet our new plan. And by the end of week 8 we hit the date – at great velocity maybe, but we hit the date, and the software moved into an implementation phase. It would go live successfully, down the implementation road that lay ahead.

On reflection, we had prepared a decent plan – maybe even an exceptional one – and the investment in systems, reporting and environments had been highly worthwhile. We had created a platform, where small changes had helped recover the plan.

But above all, we had been prepared – with tools, processes and more – to handle the inevitable issues. Most importantly, we had been culturally prepared to have the honesty to face up to our execution issues and fix them.

Make a Plan, Manage the issues.

To put it simply: we had a simple goal, a plan, ambition, and confidence we would try our best. But that is never enough. We were prepared from the first moment as a team to understand and proactively fix our mistakes, knowing that is part of any large undertaking. And that is the essence of good delivery.

Keith Haviland is a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. 

Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network. 

Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.


Writings from Keith Haviland