Project vs programme management: choosing best practice

Project vs programme management: choosing best practice

What are the different approaches and benefits of programmes and projects in organizations? Rajiv Khanna assesses the differences and how the Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) and PRINCE2® project management best practice principles and certifications can help.

Rajiv KhannaToday, many senior managers are still unable to distinguish between programmes and projects and which approach would be most suitable when implementing organizational change.

From the outset, it is essential to establish: “Do we manage this change initiative as a programme or a project?” The answer will influence effective governance, including the key element of where the authority for decision making and accountability lie. A lack of differentiation, alongside absence of clearly defined roles and responsibilities is one major reason for change initiatives to fail. Unfortunately, some organizations simply take the approach: “let’s get together and talk.”

Before discussing differences between the principles of programme and project management, it is essential to clarify the differences between the concepts of output, capability, outcome and benefit.

Outputs: are the physical entities that are delivered.
Capability: after individuals are trained on how to use the outputs they will have the necessary capability.
Outcome: when individuals with the necessary capability start to use the new outputs as part of their business as usual (BAU).
Benefits: the measurable improvements delivered because of individuals operationalizing the outputs.

Programme management principles (MSP) cover the delivery of all the above elements whereas project management principles (PRINCE2) cover the delivery of output and capability only. Therefore, it is essential that all change initiatives, regardless of their size and industry, should follow the principles of programme management. Currently, some organizations tend to focus on the delivery of outputs and capabilities only rather than outcomes and the review of associated benefits.

Although the principles of programme management should always apply, a key question for an organization is to decide whether a change should be managed as a programme or a project. Managing an initiative as a programme would require a Programme Board and two or more Project Boards. If managed as a project it would have only one Project Board.

So, will an extra layer of governance add value? If the change initiative is likely to affect a single business delivery unit, for example, the way the clients contact an organization, then it can be managed as a project. However, if the change is likely to impact several, related business areas at the same time, for example changing customer contact methods, ordering, sales approaches and the website, then it should ideally be managed as a programme. Decision making can then be delegated by the programme board to the appropriate project boards. This is likely to improve ownership at local level and make decision making more effective.

When intending to initiate a programme or a project, a corporate approach should be considered. An organization might have embarked on a similar change before and should have captured the relevant learning and experience. If it exists, the organization’s Portfolio Office is responsible for such intelligence, which enables those involved in projects and programmes to take a corporate approach.

A corporate approach to organizational change

Organizations generally have a corporate approach for their core functions, for example, complaints, employee recruitment and information technology. However, despite the level of spending, some organizations still do not have a corporate approach to managing programmes and projects. In other organizations, they do have a corporate approach but staff are either not informed or it is not enforced, encouraging teams to develop their own methodology and terminology. Having disparate processes, procedures and templates for every initiative causes confusion and mistrust among staff and fails to share learnings.

The organization’s Portfolio Office should be responsible for developing a corporate methodology and training members of their programme and project teams in it. If staff receive external MSP or PRINCE2 training they must still understand how their organization has tailored its approach. As the latest update to PRINCE2 emphasizes, no two organizations are the same and professionals need to tailor best practice principles to their situation.

The benefits of MSP and PRINCE2 best practice approaches

Using MSP enables an organization to consider an entire, organizational change initiative while PRINCE2 focuses on delivery of output and capability on time, to cost and to the necessary level of quality.

Ultimately, MSP provides the guiding principles which increase your chances of programme and change success and minimizes the level of risk. That starts with having a programme leader (Senior Responsible Owner), local change leaders (Business Change Manager) and a clearly defined vision for the programme which is then communicated to the key stakeholders. Change can be messy and it’s important to take people through change with a belief in the end goal. Communicating the vision is about understanding and articulating the benefits and sharing specific benefits with individual stakeholders.

Having access to best practice approaches increases the likelihood of delivering the benefits an organization needs through changing its capabilities and infrastructure. Above all, adopting the right approaches is about making sure the cost of delivering an organizational change is matched by the value it adds.

See our PRINCE2 and MSP sections for more information about project and programme management.

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Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) is part of the Global Best Practice suite of publications, which helps organizations and individuals manage their projects, programmes and services consistently and effectively.

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