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What is programme management?

Three programme managers standing over table in office examining programme blueprint

Today’s organizations are subject to continual change and the rate of change is increasing. There are many dynamic and contradictory factors for this; including innovations in technology, changes in the economic, social and political landscape, and more demands from regulation.

Organizations that have learned to transform themselves are more likely to survive these changes and prosper. Programme management is one of the cornerstones that supports businesses in their transformation and helps them implement their business strategy more effectively.

Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) represents a proven best practice in programme management by successfully delivering transformational change drawn from the experiences of both public and private sector organisations.

What is a programme?

Allan ThomsonProgrammes deal with outcomes while projects deal with outputs.

In MSP a programme is defined as a temporary flexible organization created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and transformational activities to deliver the organization’s strategic objectives. A programme is likely to have a life that spans several years.

Programme management and project management are complimentary approaches. During a programme lifecycle, projects are initiated, implemented and closed. Programmes provide an umbrella under which projects can be coordinated. Programmes must be supported by a controlled project environment where a project centre of excellence culture is adopted and maintained.

The three critical organizational elements

Programme management controls the tension that exists between three elements:

Managing these tensions is important for delivering transformational change that meets the needs of the organization and its stakeholders. It also manages the transition of the solutions or outputs developed and delivered by projects whilst maintaining performance and effectiveness. It does this by breaking large pieces of work into manageable pieces (tranches) with review points built in for progress, performance and benefits realization.

Programme management also provides a framework that accommodates and reconciles competing demands for resources by providing context and control for the projects of the programme.

It often involves changes to the culture, style and character of the organization. It is essential that the people aspects of change i.e. how do they adopt it, endorse it or resist it, is recognized and accommodated, otherwise the programme will fail.

Why use programme management?

Experience has shown that organizations are likely to fail to deliver change successfully when:

  • there is insufficient board-level support
  • leadership is weak
  • there are unrealistic expectations of the organizational capacity and ability to change
  • there is insufficient focus on benefits
  • there is no real picture (blueprint) of the future capability
  • there is a poorly defined or poorly communicated vision of what the future will look like
  • the organization fails to change its culture
  • there is insufficient engagement of stakeholders.

Adopting a programme management approach such as MSP provides a structured framework that can help organizations avoid these pitfalls and achieve their goals.

It encourages organizations to focus on outcomes and benefits, mitigate risks and actively engage stakeholders. MSP works even for the most challenging, complex programmes whether it be in the public or private sectors.

Read more AXELOS blog posts from Allan Thomson

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7 tips to becoming a better project manager

The challenges facing Project Managers

The imperative of closing the agile “adoption gap”

What project metrics are most effective when measuring true project progress?

Implementing a risk strategy within your organization

What are the Traits of the Perfect Project Manager?

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