An organization working on a major programme often needs a programme office.
Major programmes are concerned with implementing complex transformational change, and this can bring with it a range of challenges. The size and impact of the change, an organization’s experience in delivering programmes, the level of support for the change and the clarity of what the programme needs to achieve are all factors which need to be considered. Amid such complexity, a programme office can offer a mixture of support and solutions to help the programme succeed.
A programme office has two major functions: it supports the programme by acting as an information hub and provides a focus for things such as reporting, control of risks and issues and configuration management. However, it’s not just about administration, status gathering and consolidating information; a programme office can also provide a breadth of expertise covering areas such as finance, tools, programme and project management, scheduling, resource management and training. The programme office also provides a valuable assurance function: as it sits outside the projects that make up the programme it can provide independent validation to ensure projects run effectively, and provide advice and challenge to the Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) and programme board.
The decision to form a programme office comes early on in a programme’s life. Defining a programme, when it’s necessary to plan what the programme looks like, what benefits it will provide and how it will be managed, involves producing items such as the programme business case, blueprint and plans – which are areas where a programme office can help to address the level of complexity. During programme delivery, the focus of the programme office will be on supporting the programme and providing independent assurance that projects are being delivered effectively and the programme remains on track to achieve its objectives.
The programme office in an MSP® (Managing Successful Programmes) programme
An organization’s overarching delivery framework for programmes and projects might be defined at portfolio level, for example in a centre of excellence, in which case the programme office can adapt these organizational controls for use on the programme. If there is no organizational framework, it’s normally up to the programme manager to choose appropriate controls to help manage the programme.
If an organization is using the AXELOS MSP framework, there are a number of related management products that will help to define the programme: for example, a vision statement and blueprint will show what the future will look like; benefit profiles and a benefits map will help to define what improvements can be achieved and link these to the capabilities; a projects dossier and programme plan will show how the projects and activities will deliver the required outcomes and a business case will make sure that the overall investment is robust. MSP provides for many different types of programme information and the programme office needs to make sure these are appropriate for the programme and fit for purpose. As the programme progresses, it also needs to verify that projects are being run effectively and that their outputs contribute to delivering the capabilities defined in the blueprint. This means having visibility of what the programme is trying to deliver and recognition that it is being delivered.
The programme office: measures of success
The programme office lasts for the lifespan of the programme but should take learnings and adapt during the process. The effectiveness and perceived value of a programme office probably comes down to whether projects are delivering the right things, on time and within budget and whether key stakeholders have confidence in the programme’s success and are getting the level of support and information they need when they need it.
The successful programme office is one that provides both the supporting functions needed and also acts as a challenge and conscience to the programme. This dual role of support and assurance based on oversight and independence can be extremely valuable.
See our Managing Successful Programmes section for more information.
Read Sue's previous AXELOS blog post, Governing major change programmes with MSP.