Hold your nerve when stuck in the middle

There is light at the end of the tunnel.


Delivering a programme is rarely easy, certain periods being far more challenging than others.

The middle phase is a precarious time. The honeymoon is a distant memory. The fairy tale ending still appears elusively out of reach. The daily grind of delivery has dissipated the early adrenaline. Motivation ebbs away against an onslaught of issues.

Kanter’s Law neatly summarises the challenge as, “in the middle everything looks like a failure.”

It’s at this point, when fatigue sets in, it’s easy to lose nerve and for programmes to begin to fail.

This doesn’t have to be the case. These hurdles can be overcome by focusing on the following:

North Star: go back to the original question the programme was set to answer. Re-focussing stakeholders on the core purpose has a galvanising effect that facilitates prioritisation.

Sparks: when the end prize is a long way off, celebrate small wins. Create a buzz through recognising areas making headway. These sparks create ripples of energy across a programme.

Refresh: evolve and change ways of working. Even small tweaks to the routines create fresh perspectives that ward off stale thinking and low energy.

Ultimately, underpinning all three is the ability to remain dispassionate and resolute. An unwavering mindset, complemented with action, keeps the programme moving forward and the building blocks in sight.

Large programmes, by there very nature, are often very disruptive. It’s important that stakeholders don’t add to this during the middle phase. We encourage Sponsors to create the ‘Sparks’ when fatigue is apparent, this is their moment to support, not disrupt. The latter only ever adds to the fatigue narrative and drives most to feel disenfranchised.

Naturally there is a caveat. Sometimes for legitimate reasons programmes are stopped if it is clear the returns are not worth it. Staying resolute to the core question and unemotive are key to determining if this is the right course of action.

The middle phases of a programme can be the most challenging. It’s crucial to be aware, take positive action and persevere. By doing this you can still end up with that fairy tale ending.

" The middle is often the hardest period in change and the moment of truth. Being aware, and taking positive action is key to navigating through. Julian Thornley, EA Partner