The Difference between Managing a Project & Managing a Programme

Posted by Kevin Brady on Mon 16th February 2009 at 08:04 AM, Filed in Programme ManagementProject Management

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Many of my experienced readership will think they know the answer to this question from a personal “coal face” perspective and not realise that the best practice answer to this question could be at variance to their own view. It has never failed to surprise me over the years how many managers I have come across who think they know the answer, but when questioned singularly fail to give a response even close to the correct answer.

In order to attempt to answer this question lets set the scene.

A Programme is defined in MSP (link) as “A temporary and flexible organisation created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to the organisations strategic objectives”.

A project is defined as a “Temporary organisation, usually existing for a much shorter period which will deliver one or more outputs in accordance with a specific business case”
If you agree with the above you then have a baseline to understand the answer to this question.

If you are managing a programme you should be focused on the following aspects if you want your programme to be a success:-

  • Implement Strategies - You need to make sure that the programme has direction through the deliver of all the necessary strategies e.g. Risk Management Strategy, Stakeholder Engagement Strategy to name but a few. These strategies, if implemented correctly, will initiate key processes which will give the programme momentum, direction and an ability to remain aligned with the organisations specific strategic objectives.
  • Vision & Blueprint – The Vision Statement (a picture of a better future state for the organisation) and Blueprint (defines the “as-is” and “to-be” business processes of the organisation in terms of People, Organisation, Technology, Information) are completed and agreed defining the programmes boundary (scope of what a programme will cover, the extent of its influence).
  • Timescales – These tend to be more loosely defined and you will need to give greater emphasis to the delivery of the end point and the outcomes and benefits expected of the programme rather than specific dates.
  • Risk Focus – You will need to focus on risk, but this focus will be more towards the aggregation of risk (this is where you understand the net effect of the identified threats and opportunities on a programme when aggregated together) and operational transition with escalation routes for strategic and operational risk to make this happen smoothly.
  • Issue Management- It is important that you focus on cross interproject issues tracking and making sure escalation paths exist for such issues to be resolved.
  • Planning – You will need to focus on delivering outcomes through tranches (step changes in capability i.e. a new IT system) and managing project interdependencies. If these interdependencies are not given enough attention don’t be surprised if you see a growing number of interproject related issues building up on your issue log.
  • Benefits - Benefits delivery will dominate, with significant focus on making sure all the benefits are identified, profiled and an appropriate Benefits Realisation Strategy (How to do it!) and associated Benefits Realisation Plan (When to do it!) are agreed and implemented.
  • Governance – Governance is key and is the framework around which everything else mentioned so far is built. It is expressed in the implementation of the strategies (“How to” documents defining process) and the specification of the programme organisation detailed in Programme Definition document.
  • Stakeholder Engagement – All stakeholders with an interest in the programme need to be identified and profiled and then engaged through the programme organisation and communication plan in a way which relate to their level of interest and influence over the programmes direction and focus.
  • Quality – Focus should be on processes which ask the question “Are we doing the right thing and can we do things better” rather than check that “We are doing what we are supposed to be doing”. The later is not excluded but has a lower level of importance. This approach helps maintain the flexibility of the programme to handle ambiguity in objectives and focus.
  • Business Case – When designing and compiling the programme business case one needs to focus on benefits identification and realisation and balance this against programme costs.

If you are managing a project you should be focused on the following aspects if you want your project to be a success:-

  • Focus – You should be focused on management and coordination of specific tasks and activities
  • Time, Quality, Cost, Scope – Need to focus project around delivering the project to these constraints and their correct order bearing in mind that they are also tradeoffs.
  • Quality – Focus on making sure that outputs are fit for purpose and meet clear requirements and that processes are checked on the basis of “Are we doing what we are supposed to be doing”.
  • Business Case – Will be focused on accurate budgeting and output delivery
  • Risk – Management - will be focused on mitigating identified risks on a case by case basis and giving priority to which risk get the most attention on the basis of the impact they have on costs, quality and timescales.
  • Issue Management –Management will be focused on identification of issues on a case by case basis and prioritising the levels of attention on their resolution on the basis of their impact on the delivery of a fit for purpose product and once again their impact on time, quality, cost and scope constraint.
  • Planning – Will be product and activity orientated.
  • Benefit Focus – Delivery of fit-for-purpose outputs that will enable benefit realisation.

I hope this gives you a best practice view of the differences in managing a Project as against a Programme. I hope this contrast helps someone who has just been given a Programme Management role to understand where they should be focusing their time and perhaps modifying their attitudes and approach in order to be successful in this new role.

If you are still not sure let Clarety take the sweat out of the decision making. Use our Project /Programme Identification Scorecard


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It has helped me very much to understand some concepts that ineeded as abusiness student.

Posted by GIDEON TUGUME  on Tue 26th May 2009 at 01:54 PM | #


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