Governing major change programmes with MSP

Governing major change programmes with MSP

Why is robust governance and deploying a best practice framework so important when organizations want to introduce change?

If you want changes from a business transformation programme which stick - i.e. things delivered that are embraced and used by the business operationally - then you need to manage and control change; without rules and a framework, anything can happen.

So, what is the starting point for thinking about an approach to major change?

  • Something needs to change: there’s a recognition of this and a high level view of the reasons why. A vision of the programme and defining at a high level what the desired future state looks like and the benefits that it will bring then follows
  • Selecting a Senior Responsible Owner (SRO): this role, as described in AXELOS’ MSP® (Managing Successful Programmes) best practice guidance, needs to be someone who comes from and is a peer of the sponsoring group. The appropriate SRO will depend on the size and complexity of the programme and it’s crucial they have the right level of authority to make decisions. Sometimes, politics means SROs are appointed because the programme happens to be in their business area, though they don’t necessarily support the change or aren’t senior enough to make key decisions. Having the right SRO, who visibly supports the programme and has the right level of authority, is critical to a programme’s success
  • Choosing programme board members: though programmes are bigger and more nebulous than projects, there are still certain, vital roles that need establishing as early as possible. The Programme Manager and Business Change Manager (BCM) join the SRO as the nucleus of the programme board, with the Programme Manager focusing on delivery of capabilities and the BCM concentrating on transitioning the capabilities into the business to achieve improvements and benefits. Without the BCM focusing on the business side of change, projects often deliver things which are not embedded in the business and used to drive real improvements. While organizations are improving their approach to programmes and focusing more on transition and business change, in this area many are still catching up with their comparatively greater success in project delivery.

Moving forward

Having the programme board in place allows you to identify what the programme may look like in terms of its vision, the benefits it’s aiming to achieve and the associated costs, and to make a decision on whether to do more detailed work: does it fit with the organization’s strategy? What is the blueprint for the future state? Does the business case stack up?  What will it cost to define the programme in detail? Then you’re in a position to decide whether or not to move forward.

If the programme goes ahead to the next phase, at this point robust governance is about defining the framework - the rules - of how the programme will be managed. This will include things like the roles and responsibilities of the programme board, how the programme and projects work together, how the programme governance fits with organizational governance, along with escalation and tolerance levels.

During programme delivery, the governance needs to be reviewed to check it’s still appropriate and working effectively. A typical time to review the programme governance is towards the end of a tranche, when you can see how well it has been working in practice and whether it needs to change to support the next stage of delivery.

So how do you know whether the programme is going the right way? It’s important to look at whether the programme is producing the right outcomes in business terms, not just whether projects are producing the correct quality of outputs. For example, a project may produce a new IT system within its time, cost and quality targets. However, if this is not taken up and used by the business to drive efficiencies then the program won’t be able to achieve its outcomes and benefits.

It’s important to put in place some performance indicators to assess the baseline measurements before transition, so that improvements can be measured after the change has been embedded. Programme health checks or assurance reviews conducted by someone external to the programme are also a useful way to give the SRO the opportunity to get an external, unbiased view of progress.

The value of a framework – MSP

Having seen organizations only purporting to use a framework - or not using a framework at all - this results in unclear decision-making at all authority levels and a lack of clarity and transparency. Programmes can lose direction and end up not achieving the outcomes and benefits they were set up to achieve.

A framework - in this case MSP - helps with governance in a number of ways:

  • Creating clearly-defined roles and responsibilities
  • Enabling greater clarity and transparency in decision making
  • Establishing what does a programme does, what a project does and what falls within each authority
  • Understanding how a programme relates to the wider organization
  • Establishing who has the authority to make what decisions and when.

It’s easier for programmes to be successful when you have a clear framework to help. And where there is still room for improvement, it’s not because frameworks aren’t robust; using a framework “out of the box” to manage a complex programme is not likely to be as effective as interpreting and tailoring it to the needs of your specific programme and organization.

See our MSP section for more information.

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