Collaboration and programme management, peculiar bedfellows?

Yesterday I attended a most insightful conference run by the Association of Project Management (APM). This specialist event was uniquely dedicated to programme management and sought to foster understanding and proficiency across the programme leadership community.

This event, the brainchild of the APM’s Programme Management SIG, delivered a feature packed full day, showcasing best practice and insight levelled at those embarking upon or delivering collaborative transformational change programmes.

Chair of the Programme Management SIG, Merv Wyeth was recently quoted: “Many within the programme management community will have experienced instances of transformation change, successful or otherwise, involving organisations working together. We are keen to capture this knowledge and build an evidential base for future best practice.

It was my first attendance to an event specialising in programme management (I believe that it is probably the first dedicated event held in the UK).

In all I thought it was an excellent event. Indeed I had an opportunity to speak to several of the delegates, both during lunch break and at the networking reception after the conference closed, and the feedback was an unquestionable “thumbs up” in support of the day.

The consensus of opinion was that:

  • APM had managed to bring together a diverse selection of relevant programme experts from across the UK’s public sector and encompassed Central Government, Defence, Policing, Health and Local Authorities.
  • Sessions examined what the delegates wanted to know, especially the various best practice frameworks, models, tools and techniques reinforced by the practitioner presenters real world examples of what was done to enhance and improve programme delivery success.
  • Sessions managed to deliver on the conference vision of “delivering more for less” and “using programme management to achieve transformational change in an era of austerity”, generally discussing the issues of programme delivery in a time when all resources are under scrutiny.
  • Sessions reinforced and emphasised the Collaboration and Community as key factors in programme success.

Throughout the day the even managed to weave four cross-cutting themes: Competence, Collaboration, Change and Community.

For me, the key theme of the day was that of Collaboration.

Collaboration is a process of participation through which people, groups and organisations work together to achieve desired results.

Without a doubt, effective programme management has a symbiotic relationship with collaboration. More like a troublesome bedfellow!

Have you tried delivering transformational change without effective collaboration across the programme?

I particularly enjoyed the session with David Hawkins, the author of ‘The Collaborative framework – ISO Standard 11000’. David summed up collaboration as “synchronised swimming with sharks”, an amusing analogy that resonates with many who have ventured into tempestuous collaborative waters and come away with more than a few nips and bite-marks!


Having previously performed roles where collaborative activities were critical for the success of the initiatives I was leading. The more successful alliances and partnerships (with third party firms) wrapped up strategic strength with executive management buy-in (on both sides), plus numerous other factors fitting together like a jig-saw puzzle. Many lessons learned there, especially during those endeavours that were less successful.

Unfortunately the collaborative process is influenced by numerous factors. Factors include the skills of leadership, communication, sustainability, unity, participation, and even the history of successful accomplishments has a bearing!

Interestingly over the day, there were examples were collaborative approaches had been successfully used in organisations that would traditionally use “command and control” management. Lessons learned from failures over the years have forced such organisations to evolve and adapt their programmes. So if such steadfast organisations are yielding, shouldn’t we all try harder?

What are your experiences?

Have you any thoughts on why collaboration is so challenging?

How readily does your organisation collaborate?

Do you believe that leaders in your organization are skilled in collaboration?

If you would like to know more about the day then Neil White, a fellow APM ProgM SIG Committee Member, wrote a report on the day for the APM. Check it out: APM More for Less: Reflections on the ProgM Conference

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