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Author  John Edmonds - PPM Portfolio Development Manager

June 1, 2021 |

 3 min read

  • Blog
  • Programme management
  • Project management
  • Project planning
  • MSP

Programmes, by definition, are major and complex undertakings. A programme, as defined in Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) is “designed to lead multiple related projects and other work in order to progressively deliver outcomes of benefit”.

Leading a wide range of work, possibly over many years, is going to generate an enormous amount of information, and it would be all too easy to find ourselves lost in such detail. It is useful, therefore, to consider four main elements that leaders should establish early in the programme and keep at the forefront of their thinking throughout the entire lifecycle.

These key elements are:

  • Vision
  • Benefits
  • Target operating model
  • Risks.

Individually these are all vitally important to good programme design. Together they form a coherent set of high-level information that is critical in keeping the programme on course to successfully achieve its objectives.

We should first consider the vision of the programme. Expressed through the vision statement, this is a high-level description of the desired future state of the organizations that have invested in the programme. Its purpose is to enable and support engagement, motivation and alignment of the many stakeholders involved.

The vision statement should be crafted in a way that ensures it is easily understood by everyone inside and outside the programme management team, articulating what people will see and experience once the programme has been successfully completed.

Implicit in a good vision statement is the promise of benefits for the investing organizations. Benefits are the measurable improvements resulting from an outcome delivered by the programme that the investing organizations consider advantageous.

A key distinctive of programmes is that they are ‘driven’ by benefits. Without the prospect of benefits a programme would not be justified. Best practice programme management therefore ensures that there is a focus on the realization of measurable benefits throughout, and after, the programme lifecycle. It is at the heart of programme management.

Target operating model
In order to maintain the focus on benefits, a programme needs to design and deliver capabilities that can be transitioned and adopted by the investing organizations so that the outcomes are embedded, and measurable benefits are realized. The target operating model is a detailed description of the future state of the investing organizations when all the planned capabilities have been delivered by the programme.

It therefore articulates all aspects of those organizations – roles and responsibilities, culture, processes, technology, infrastructure, information, knowledge and learning. It is used throughout the programme to maintain a focus on the future state and to ensure that a coherent set of capabilities is being designed and delivered.

As such, it is the ‘target’ state that the combined outputs from all the projects (and other work) within the programme are aiming to create.

Vision, benefits and the target operating model together articulate the overall purpose of the programme. However, programmes are inherently uncertain, existing as they do in a sometimes volatile, dynamic and fast-changing environment. Uncertain events that would affect the successful achievement of the vison, benefits and target operating model are programme risks. These need to be identified, prioritized, and managed.

Programme-level risk management is put in place to manage risks that have a direct impact on any of the outcomes of benefit or other programme objectives in order to achieve those objectives.

These four key elements of programme management – vision, benefits, target operating model, and risks – combined together give programme leaders a clear focus on what is important, and what therefore requires prioritization.

diagram of 5th edition MSP key elements

In the 5th edition of MSP, all four are addressed in the ‘Design’ theme, which serves to rightly emphasize the importance that all four have, both individually and as a group. Thoughtful and appropriate application of all of these aspects of programme design will create a strong starting point, whatever the nature and drivers of a programme.