Traditional project management approaches tend to look at a project as a discrete entity having its own set of resources (the budget and project team) and producing its own set of deliverables that deliver benefit to the organisation.
In a complex organisation such as a college or university rarely is any project completely self-contained. Even a relatively simple IT application is likely to require interfaces to other systems and most of our activities impact on a diverse range of stakeholder groups. Large organisations such as ours also tend to have hundreds of individual projects running at the same time and many find themselves at the mercy of inter-departmental competition for resources.
The principles behind programme management will help you to manage in this complex environment.
This guide assumes you are familiar with the terms and concepts in our project management guide. Much of the material presented here can be regarded as advanced project management and may be of interest to people managing single large projects or wishing to follow up some of the basic concepts in more depth.
Our approach references the PRINCE2 project management methodology and the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) methodology for managing successful programmes throughout.
At its simplest Programme Management can be defined as
A group of projects managed together for added benefit
The additional benefits might include:
- The elimination of risk arising from interfaces between the projects
- The coherent prioritisation of resources
- Reduction in management effort.
The projects may be related or non-related, however they will all aim to achieve outputs that will enable the programme to progress one or more strategic objectives of the organisation.
Programme management is a means of organising a range of projects. Just to make matters confusing you will often see programme management described as a means of organising a portfolio of projects. We use the term portfolio management to describe the next stage up the hierarchy ie, managing a portfolio of programmes. ‘P3M’ describes how projects, programmes and portfolios interrelate.
Programme management enables resources to be shared across projects reducing the problems faced by individual project managers and recognises the dependencies that exist between projects. It provides a framework for senior management engagement and, with a focus on benefits, can deliver a sum greater than the outputs of individual projects. Programme management relates also to the process of business change – you can find further discussion in our change management guide.
Programme management is normally a top-down approach. A programme should take forward the strategy of the organisation. It should be formed around a single strategic objective of the organisation (even though it may have benefits for another). Aligning the programme with a single main objective should help to ensure that it is possible to identify a single owner – this is considered further under key roles.
As an example, to achieve a strategic objective of offering value for money, projects may be started to:
- Implement a new information system to increase efficiency in administration
- Set up a new team to co-ordinate business and community engagement activities
- Build a new library to replace an existing outdated and inadequate library space.
These seemingly unconnected projects can all contribute to the strategic aim of the programme.
Alternatively when adding a new building to a campus there are likely to be projects that have a clearer relationship:
- Clearing the site, which may include some demolition
- Infrastructure (roadways, pathways, services)
- Furniture and equipment.
It is possible to call these either a programme or a single project and for all practical purposes it may not matter as long as everyone is in agreement about the terminology. However, as a general rule, programmes are about co-ordinating and organising. Programmes are generally more complex than projects, are concerned with longer timescales and have a wider scope. A programme has focus on achievement of benefits whereas projects focus on outputs.
A project to implement a new VLE might have a technical and procurement focus, ending with the handover of a working system. A programme to implement a new VLE will include both that project and ongoing projects to develop skills, content, innovation and to handle any change in working practices.
Projects versus programmes
- Closely bounded and scoped deliverables
- Benefits after closure.
- Wider strategic benefits
- Complex relationships
- Benefits during and after
- Benefits management
- Transition to a new state.
Managing Successful Programmes (MSP)
Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) is the methodology approved by government for public sector programmes and was drawn from practices used by government’s best policy makers and a range of other authors whose job was to transform policy into desired outcomes and benefits.