What is programme management?

I’m currently working as a programme manager. An interim role engaged for the last year at Capital One, an international financial services firm. Purpose of the role is to oversee multiple cross functional projects, to drive business transformation delivery across a stream of internal business units and with business process outsourcing suppliers. One moment consulting with executive and programme level sponsors, the next leading hands-on delivery of change (through directing a dozen business change and technology projects).

But what is programme management?

Programme (or Program) Management is the discipline of managing a group of interdependent projects. There are some disparities in its exact definition, but generally speaking it is “the coordinated organization, direction and implementation of a dossier of projects and transformation activities (i.e. the programme) to achieve outcomes and realize benefits of strategic importance”.  In project hierarchical structure, programme management is positioned between project management and portfolio management.

Programme management is an increasingly important enabler for turning a winning strategy into successful reality, or “simply” driving and delivering change across multiple business areas in an organisations. Whether it’s managing post-M&A business integration or implementing a strategic technology platform.

Organisations are faced with tackling complex transformation endeavours that require uniting the successful delivery of enhanced business models, improved organizational structure, new capabilities and services, performance improvements, along with technology enablement often to glue the disparate elements together. These endeavours involve numerous projects being run in parallel to deliver the overall programme outcome.

Operating these projects in isolation increases the uncertainty of success. For instance, pressures of competing project priorities often results in loss of focus on one (or more) projects (such as reprioritising one project over another and moving resources accordingly). The very nature of the group of projects (aiming to deliver project outputs for a single programme outcome) means that there is a greater likelihood that there are many interdependent undertakings between the projects; activities in one project that rely on the output from another. Refocusing attention on one project (without taking into consideration the impact on the programme) often creates an inability to complete another projects activities in a timely manner.   Leaders have found that “traditional” project management approaches fall short for such complex and often interdependent undertakings. Albeit perfect for the individual projects, project management approaches are viewed as not having the magnitude to oversee multiple, related projects and their resources to achieve strategic business objectives. Programme management requires practitioners to step up to another level.

Effective programme management encompasses fundamental areas, these include leadership (the overall program), governance (defined roles and responsibilities, providing oversight), management (both projects and the overall program), financial management (budget, practices and controls), infrastructure (programme office, technology, and other factors in the supporting environment), planning and control (multi-level), plus other areas like benefits management, stakeholder management, communication management, risk management, quality management, and resource management.

But ultimately programme management is about defining the programme, managing the projects and their interdependencies within the programme to deliver according to plan, and ensuring delivery and realisation of measurable business benefits. Lastly close-down of the programme (plus its infrastructure as it is like a separate organisation or business unit). Plus one would expect that lessons learned are captured and documented for the organisation.

A program is often confused with a portfolio. They both consist of multiple projects, but there are significant differences that distinguish the two.

I will delve deeper into project, programme and portfolio management during the life cycle of this blog.

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