The Challenges and Considerations of Extraordinary Programmes

I had the privilege of working on the Bloodhound Supersonic Car Programme from 2015 to 2017. At the end of last year, we saw the announcement that the project was going into administration, followed a mere 10 days later with an article on the BBC saying the project was saved.

It has been a roller-coaster story to follow but it is important to recognise the realities of extraordinary programmes like these. From my experience, there are three major challenges with three considerations for anyone embarking on such a programme.

1: It’s Hard – Agility is Key

I mean really hard, you are working at the edge of the known and the challenges, be they engineering, financial or even the business model to drive these things forward, need to be adapted and flexible. Critically you need to build in more risk contingency than with a known programme, be prepared for failure (because it will happen) and be prepared for success. Equally, you need to see every step objectively but have the subjective emotional drive to even start it in the first place. This objectivity is key to knowing when to change and what to change in all areas of the business and not being afraid to do so.

The consideration, be agile, be prepared to change, be unemotional and be rigorous. Have clear objectives and measurements and stick to them.

2: Make it Viable

Despite the risks, the likelihood of failure and likely changes, you still need to be viable.

There are three common themes that recur with extraordinary programmes:

  1. They lose their viability with moving budgets, timelines and narrative (they didn’t build in the risk contingency for working on the unknown unknowns)
  2. They focus on the objectives, not the vision – risking a myopic approach to ticking off what they think is needed to manifest the vision, rather than the best manifestation
  3. Demonstrate value in meaningful timeframes.  Programmes can extend decades which, for investors and shareholders, can be intangible and not valuable, particularly when they are high risk with little guarantee of success.

The consideration – take a commercial look at the programme. Any programme, no matter how extraordinary, needs to show how they can generate value.

3. Think Differently

By repeating business practices of the past that haven’t worked you are doomed to failure and even those that do work in different fields, the world of extraordinary projects don’t typically operate in the same way.

At SBW, when we work with our clients, we take a lateral view to the business. The linear business looks at their one sole mission, the lateral business looks at their vision to see how other industries, applications, activities or spin-offs could enable it.

This manifests in many different ways from products and services to partnerships, spin-offs, government programmes and more. To build great programmes you need to think differently.

To realise great visions, you need to generate near-term, sustainable, value and recognise when to change.


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