Today, programme management is often used to co-ordinate multiple projects that all relate to a single goal from a business strategy. In the context of this article, a programme is a collection of projects, which together contribute towards a common set of objectives or target outcome. There may or may not be physical inter-dependencies between them (and the physical deliverables may never be integrated together). In other words, in this definition, the programme is not simply one giant project.
What is its main purpose? – outcomes and benefits
Its main purpose should be to maximise the outcomes and benefits delivered by the programme. It must therefore continue on well after final deliverables are produced, into the realisation phase of the planned benefits. By definition therefore, there are often interfaces or relationships between the projects, and the benefits they are intended to deliver. It should bring a level of decision making and review, which would not be possible a the project level. For example, determining priorities (e.g. relating to resources), and determining which projects are delivering maximum contribution to key business objectives. Often it is not possible or desirable to make sound decisions on these factors at the individual project level – programme management should bring a strategic view to the planning for example to resolution of issues and allocation of resources and priorities.
The purpose is not to duplicate the function of delivering projects – it is to:
- provide focus on the strategic goals, objectives and benefits and ensure these are evident and maximised;
- provide input to project planning to maximise the achievement of the business objectives;
- communicate with stakeholders and sponsors and support Project Managers where required with this task;
- ensure the sum of the deliverables from across the programme meet the business needs;
- ensure that Benefits are actively planned, optimised and realised;
- ensure that wider business risks are recognised and being addressed;
- provide direction relating to priorities and resources;
- provide input to Portfolio Management in relation to wider prioritisation and resources.
It should not automatically be considered as an organisational ‘layer, but it must be a function and process that is actively performed. It needs to be a regular activity, unlike perhaps quarterly or bi-annual planning or control activities.
It must either carry out or interface very closely with the following processes:
- Preparation and maintenance of the Business Case(s); Benefits Identification, Planning and Realisation; Governance; Change Management; Change Control; Risk Assessment and Stakeholder co-ordination and Communication
When carried out in a regular structured and disciplined manner, the following benefits can be achieved:
- Projects can be accelerated, slowed down, or stopped in line with overall priorities
- Resource priorities can be decided across projects
- Issues and risks can also be managed in line with programme needs
- Interdependencies can be identified and controlled
- and lastly but perhaps most important of all, it provides the link between strategic planning and the benefits that will be delivered.
The benefits are pretty clear, but there are challenges. The most common are that when people are drawn into a programme function for the first time, they:
- are very unclear what they are expected to do;
- fall back on what they are familiar with;
- are very unclear on how their authority operates alongside normal organisational roles and responsibilities;
- get embroiled in things that do not belong at this level, like discussing issues in delivering projects or reviewing their progress; and
- often have very little real input or real information upon which to make decisions.
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