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Author  John Edmonds - PPM Portfolio Development Manager at Axelos

November 9, 2020 |

 4 min read

  • Blog
  • Programme management
  • Project management
  • MSP

The 5th edition of Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) has now been officially launched.

If you are familiar with previous versions of MSP, especially the one published in 2011, you probably wonder how this new version differs from previous ones.

The core concepts of the previous version (principles, themes and processes) still form the overall structure of the guidance, and there are some elements of the 2011 edition that are also clearly addressed in the 5th edition. These include:

  • Vision – and the purpose and characteristics of a good vision statement
  • Benefits – this remains an MSP principle and is a thread that runs through the whole guidance in a variety of ways
  • Risks – these are treated in a similar way in that they are addressed in several, rather than one, place
  • Blueprint – is now retitled as target operating model with further explanation of its use.

These four key elements (vision, benefits, risks and target operating model) are now all described in the Design theme within the new edition of MSP, and in this way stress the integrated nature of a programme.

Other major areas of the 4th edition that also feature in the new edition are:

  • Organization structure and roles – the well-established roles of senior responsible owner, programme manager, business change manager, sponsoring group, programme board and programme office are maintained and reinforced. Other roles are also addressed appropriately.
  • Business Case - its links with benefits, funding and financial planning are addressed in the Justification theme.
  • Stakeholder engagement – and communications planning is refreshed and updated.
  • The programme lifecycle, previously called the Transformational Flow, is refreshed and the incremental nature of a programme is stressed. The progressive delivery of beneficial outcomes is ensured throughout each process.

The overall structure of principles, themes and programme lifecycle still forms the basis for the MSP integrated framework, as follows.

The MSP principles

The principles have been rewritten. Inspiration has been taken from the previous edition’s set of principles, and some of the emphasis of that set can be seen in the 5th edition.

Although the principles are still described as universal, self-validating and empowering, they have been overhauled to ensure that they are valid in today’s environment.

The principles all express what it means to be leading a programme using MSP and reinforce the most critical areas for programme success.

Each principle is explained in one relatively short paragraph, with a description of how that principle is achieved in each MSP theme.

The MSP themes

There are now seven themes rather than the nine from the previous edition, and they are now called Themes rather than Governance Themes as the whole set (and in fact the entire framework of MSP) provides governance.

The themes are introduced with a discussion on programme and corporate governance, and their relationship; programme strategy and programme plans then follow.

All themes are described with one word which, as has been shown with PRINCE2, helps clarify the purpose and contribution of that theme, e.g. Design or Justification.

Each chapter also expresses the key relationships with the MSP principles, the key roles and responsibilities, and the key information needed to support the theme. This means that each theme gives very practical guidance for the reader.

The MSP programme lifecycle

Programmes are designed to achieve outcomes of benefits for stakeholders throughout the programme lifecycle. As new information becomes available, adjustments need to be made. Programme management requires a focus on learning and design and redesign of the progression towards the desired future state.

We have renamed what we called ‘Transformational Flow’ in the previous edition to programme lifecycle and this now includes seven processes. These include Identify the programme (to give the programme a controlled start) and Close the programme (the controlled end). The processes in-between form a cyclical lifecycle.

Each process in the lifecycle is first described with its purpose, objectives and context. Then by the inputs to the process, activities within the process and outputs from the process.

Finally, each process chapter explains how the themes are applied to that process, and a comment on the responsibilities of the key MSP roles within that process.


Throughout each of the seven theme chapters there are four fictional scenarios illustrating how MSP can be used according to the reasons for a programme. These reasons, or drivers are:

  • Innovation and growth
  • Organizational re-alignment
  • Effective delivery
  • Efficient delivery.

In summary, the essence of what a programme is remains the same – it is temporary, it is focused on outcomes of benefit, and it is concerned with leading multiple projects and other work.

MSP has been a great guide and inspiration to the practice of leading complex change over the years and the 5th edition continues to capture leading thinking on vital controls and tailorable practices for programme management.

The new guide is available from our publishing partner TSO, or via accredited training organizations.