#PMFlashBlog “Project Management Around the World – England”

Welcome to the second round of #PMFlashBlog. The topic for this round is “Project Management Around the World” and plans to share the thoughts and insight from project management bloggers from around the globe about what project management is like in their part of the world.

Rather than having the mass blog event that we experienced in September 2013, this round has been split in to geographies. Last week (March 3) it was the turn of North America, this week (March 10) Europe, next week (March 17) Australia and New Zealand.

Let’s get back on topic. The following is my small contribution to #PMFlashBlog: “Project Management Around the World”; this “short” post is from my geography, England.

I’m stepping away from the typical project management theme, so I should probably give this a somewhat grander title, such as, “It’s Project Management, but not as you know it”.

It’s no surprise that project management is a core competency for all medium and large enterprises in the UK. A broad generalisation I know (let’s caveat that by stating “almost all”, I’ve heard of a few that seemingly avoid project management).

Over the last two decades I have worked for many Blue-Chip companies and UK Government organisations (either as an employee (of the organisation), consultant (working for a global SI, like CGI Group) or interim manager). I have gained a broad perspective of what challenges these organisations face, and would say that all have embraced project management as their approach to deliver a spectrum of products, solutions, and services.

Common across all these organisations, is the incessant need to cope with increasingly demanding environments of relentless change. Relentless change increased appreciably from 2008; organisations have faced increased external and internal pressures, being forced to change more rapidly. All too frequently, ending up confronting these challenges by “doing more with less” (fewer people, smaller budgets, reduced time, etc.).

Such change drivers may well encompass one of the following: changes in business practices (outsourcing, partnerships, etc.), efficiency improvements, technology innovations, regulatory change, and improved value for money from existing or new investments. Often the drivers coincide, organisations needing to embrace one or more to successfully deliver the expected change.

Unfortunately we have witnessed such complexities stretching the boundaries of traditional project management. Particularly when projects venture into large-scale, multi-layered structures, delivering multiple deliverables over extended time periods.

These projects unusually encompass intricate interdependencies between other projects. As organisations have had to stretch budgets to comply with demands for change, many have embarked into partnerships and alliances with other organisations. The number of interdependencies involved in such collaborative multiple party initiatives can rapidly become unmanageable.

Therefore, organisations have adapted; learning to embrace new ways of leading and managing their transformational change by addressing the scale, complexity and uncertainty of their transformation task by adopting a programme delivery approach.

An approach whereby effective leadership and strategic direction of the various projects can be wrapped up under the “umbrella” of a programme; such oversight has led to successfully managing and delivering transformations to desired outcomes.

Programme management is about managing groups of projects as a singe entity, primarily to achieve an anticipated outcome or benefit for the organisation. It’s about structuring and controlling those projects so they deliver effectively as a single entity.

Remarkably, the United Kingdom (UK) has led the drive to deliver transformational change through programmes.

In the 1990’s the UK Government identified the need for organizations to improve links between their objectives, goals and projects and their long-term strategies.

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC), an Agency of the UK Government, developed Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) at the end of the last millennium (when most organisations were focussed on delivering Year 2000 projects).

What is MSP (I’m keeping this very concise):

  • MSP provides a framework allowing the delivery of an organization’s current and future interrelated projects to comply with its long-term strategies.
  • MSP states that “Programme Management may be defined as the coordinated organization, direction and implementation of a portfolio of projects and activities that together achieve outcomes and realize benefits that are of strategic importance.”
  • MSP is not prescriptive. It can be adapted to suit the needs of any organisation. Whatever the scale or scope of the programme or geographies covered.

Since the 1990’s, MSP has become a widely accepted best-practice approach for programme delivery. It is now used globally in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. I understand that MSP certified practitioners are now based in over 25 countries.

Programme management and MSP cropped up several times during the 2014 Microsoft Project Conference (held last month), where a global audience of over 1,200 project management practitioners gathered in California, USA.

During this prestigious event, Donna Fitzgerald, Vice President (Project & Portfolio Management) of Gartner Research revealed the emerging trends that all PPM leaders should be prepared for, and why many companies need to be embracing enterprise portfolio management and programme management to address the increasing demands for change. She could not emphasise enough, the need for changing the way organisations deliver the more complex and convoluted projects, those with greater scale, complexity and uncertainty.

Donna recommended that organisations must embrace programme delivery as the optimum approach to effectively deliver complex change, whilst delivering value and benefits. She also recommended that organisations adopt MSP as the prefered approach!

I expect that MSP’s profile will gain a deserved uplift now that organisations such as Gartner Research endorses MSP as a de-facto standard for best practice in programme management. Not just in the UK, but globally!

There are many proponents of programme management in the UK. The Association for Project Management (APM) is fully committed to developing and promoting programme management globally. (The APM is the certification body in the UK for the International Project Management Association (IPMA)).

Do I have confidence in programme delivery? Of course I do. After all I have been working in the field for the last decade (and I’ve been a MSP Practitioner for most of that time).

I believe we need to do more; and encourage programme management adoption (when/where applicable).

Therefore I’m also a Committee Member on the APM’s Programme Management Specific Interest Group (SIG). The SIG is recognised internationally as the leading group for programme management, and is intent on evolving every aspect of programme management.

Interestingly, at a recent programme management conference run by the APM Programme Management SIG, it was apparent that programme management (and MSP) is spreading rapidly. MSP has recently been adopted by the US Army.

So it may feel like project management, but not as you typically know it. But as organisations strive to meet their shifting challenges, their approach to managing such change must evolve too. That means moving beyond the comfort of project management.

Programme management is not rocket science, it’s not even new; it’s taking project management to a different level, one that facilitates successful outcomes.

Programme management is a proven approach to tackling complex strategic initiatives; adopting best practice (from MSP, or equivalent) can deliver the desired outcomes and benefits expected by even the most demanding stakeholder (we seemingly have more than our fair share in the UK).

Is your organisation striving for effective delivery of change? Has it adopted a programme approach?


PS You might find this APM blog post useful “Seven top tips for programme management

2 responses to “#PMFlashBlog “Project Management Around the World – England”

  1. Neil, great post on programme management while I agree with you I think there are a large number of organisations still struggle with basic project management. I think a great sign of an organisation’s maturity is if the do programme management.

    • Barry, thank you for your feedback. Very much appreciated. 

      You are quite correct, an extraordinarily large number of organisations still struggle with basic project management. Some areas are stronger at project management than others. 

      I’ve worked in organisations where IT project management was diligent, whereas certain business areas were fairly inept at delivering any form of projects beyond those that lasted longer than a few weeks duration. 

      Obviously difficulties ensued when programmes encompassed both IT and business functions.

      But at least these organisations tackled strategic change through the rigour of both projects and programmes. 

      So many organisations are missing out on this higher level of project management maturity, utilising programme management to deliver positive change.

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