In some ways projects and programmes are pretty similar; they both introduce change, should bring benefits to the organisation or the environment, have a start and end and are generally riskier than business-as-usual. But managing a programme in the same way you’d approach a project could lead to disaster. Why is this? Well firstly a programme is generally a longer affair, involving more people, resources and bigger change than a project; so the potential for problems is that much greater. In addition because a programme will involve greater change, and will be higher profile; the effect of those problems will be greater and more obvious. Finally projects tend to result in a definable, predictable output, such as a hotel or a software product whereas the end state of programmes is less predictable. For example, the implications of a business transformation programme might be difficult to understand. It might not be predictable how the new way of working will affect all parts of the organization.
There are many approaches to project management: PRINCE2, the PMI’s PMBOK, and SCRUM for example; but what is available to help us out with programme management? Well in a series of blogs I’d like to have a look at the APMG’s Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) that has many ideas to deal with the complexities and ambiguities of programme management.
The format of MSP is similar to the other APMG best practices. There is an official manual (simply called Managing Successful Programmes published by The Stationery Office). There are three levels of certifications administered by the APMG (www.apmg-international.com): Foundation level, Practitioner level and Advanced Practitioner level. All the certification levels are gained by passing an exam. You can either take the exam directly with the APMG or as part of a course with an accredited training organisation. Have a look at the APMG’s website for a full list of accredited training organizations.
Whether you decide to take the accreditation levels or not, I would recommend having a good look through the manual; there’s lots of very useful stuff in there! My one criticism of the APMG is that their accreditations are focused on passing exams. Students tend to attend training sessions for a few days, cram all the information in their head for the exam and then forget a lot of it afterwards. I think a better way to improve your programme management approach would be to take your time and study the manual, applying useful and relevant parts to your work as you go along. Having an exam certificate really doesn’t mean you are a better programme manager!
I will have a look at some of the ideas of MSP over the next few months in these blogs. For example it looks at how a programme can form an umbrella over a group of projects, all working together for a consistent and coherent aim. It discusses how there can be a hierarchical management organisation, with a programme board at the top that directs and manages a range of project boards. It looks at how programmes can be managed in a range of different circumstances: where there is a clear vision which has initiated the programme, where the programme has emerged from a group of existing projects which the organization realises have a coherent aim or where the organisation must become compliant with, for example, some new legislation.
One of the most interesting areas MSP focuses on is ensuring that the programme has a successful impact on the commissioning organisation or society. As I said at the outset of this article the impact of a programme can be unpredictable and ambiguous. The effect of a programme to transform an organisation’s behaviour is one example of this. Another example is where a programme has been set up to led to some societal change, for example a government initiative to improve the eating habits of school children. Here it can be very unpredictable whether the efforts of a programme will led to the predicted changes. Also the lines of cause and effect are very difficult to establish. MSP provides a systematic, structured approach to deal with these difficulties.
I hope this article has started to whet your appetite – I’ll tell you more about MSP in later blogs. If anyone has used MSP both successfully or unsuccessfully please feel free to comment below.
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