What is MSP ?

Posted by Kevin Brady on Sun 29th June 2008 at 08:59 PM, Filed in Programme ManagementMSP(managing successful projts)

MSP stands for Managing Successful Programmes and is the Office of Government & Commerce’s own portfolio of policies and standards setting out what “good” looks like with respect to programme management. Together with the APMG (Association of Project Management Group) these good /best practices have been encapsulated into a framework and published by the TSO in a book entitled “Managing Successful Programmes”. This book is now the basis for a series of APMG qualifications pitched at different levels – Foundation (knowledge test), Practitioner (ability to apply MSP to real world situations, Advanced (ability to design and execute an MSP Programme).

It is important at this point to make the distinction that MSP is not a methodology like PRINCE 2, but is a framework. This means that MSP is not a rigid list of processes and procedures built around a model which has to be followed without question in order to deliver /manage a programme successfully. MSP is a skeleton set of principles /themes built around what is called a transformational flow, or another way of describing, a best practice programme lifecycle. At its heart is a set of delivery mechanisms designed to execute governance /planning processes together with a number of tools and templates in order to deliver outputs, outcomes and benefits in a coordinated way with an emphasise on added value and continuous alignment with corporate objectives /strategy. However, the reason why MSP is a framework and not a methodology is ensure it has the flexibility and robustness necessary to cope with the frequent and sometimes radical changes of programme scope and varying levels of ambiguity throughout a programmes lifecycle. This is clearly different to what is required of projects where a flexible, dynamic scope usually spells disaster. Projects require clarity on scope and control over quality /time and cost in order to hit and achieve specific targets under each of these headings.

However, MSP has its limitations as a framework. The authors perhaps quickly realised that MSP could not be an “all things to all men” programme management framework. The book clearly states that while MSP has great flexibility and requires shaping to the unique features of the programme environment and not the other way round, it is best at delivering certain kinds of programmes. The roadmap for which kind of programme best suits MSP runs as follows:-

Stage 1 – MSP puts programmes into three categories

Vision-led Programmes – Have come into existence to deliver a clearly defined vision created and owned by those at the top of the organisation

Emergent Programmes – Evolves from concurrent uncoordinated projects that have grown within an organisation and there is recognition that coordination of these projects is necessary to deliver changes and the desired benefits.

Compliance – “Must-do” programmes, where the organisation has no choice but to change as a result of external event, such as legislative change.

Stage 2 - Under each of these headings MSP further divides programmes into three further types.

Specification-led – Delivering changes and benefits to a clear scope or specification. For example, a new office block or a new transaction processing system for a bank. These types of programmes have low levels of ambiguity about what the programme is to deliver, but there may be high levels of complexity and risk in the delivery.

Business Transformation Programmes – This is where change is more focused on transforming the way the business functions – for example implementing a new service partnership or moving into a new market.

Political & Societal Change Programmes – Where the change is focused on improvements in society, and the level of predictability will be reduced as there will be many uncontrollable external factors to play.

MSP is stated as being best suited to delivering vision-led programmes with high levels of ambiguity and risk but where there is a definite end point.

This means that MSP is best suited to Vision-Lead Transformational Programmes where the level of ambiguity is high and the risks are substantial, but has a definite endpoint. Specification based programmes can use elements of MSP, but because the scope is reasonably well defined and adjusted according to circumstance MSP is less relevant and is used perhaps in a more scaled down form. With respect to Political and Societal Change Programmes MSP would be a good choice if it was not for the fact that these kinds of programmes tend to drift into becoming never ending, and as such become an expression of business-as-usual operational management. The lack of an end point makes MSP or many other programme management frameworks inappropriate.

The fact that MSP is focused around transformational programmes does not mean that it cannot be used like a tool box of useful tools, templates and processes for the running of other programme types. It just delivers more added value when applied to Business Transformational Programmes.

I have to say having read many books on Programme Management it is clear that even though MSP has this bias to one type of programme, it is the best programme management framework on the market at this present time for any type of programme. It is a huge repository of strategies (governance), plans (when to do it), processes and templates, which combined with the concepts of transformational flow really can provide programme managers with an opportunity to acquire a wide range of knowledge, skills and tools. With the right instructor MSP can really give a strong sense of empowerment and confidence for “newbie” programme managers wanting to start their next programme of work.

If anyone wants a copy of MSP and related other books on its practical application then I recommend looking at the Maven Bookshop. I am recommending this site because Melanie Franklin a well known author of MSP related books has recently brought out a number of new books which plug into MSP and help with the practical application of

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MSP is then “comparative” to other framework softwares like Rational or Tivoli (eek), or ETL?

If so, how many years has it been field tested?

Thank you

Posted by Terrie  on Fri 11th July 2008 at 02:46 PM | #

Thanks for the comment Terrie. I am sorry for not commenting more promptly.

I have to express for once my ignorance of ETL but I have a more sound understanding of Tivoli and Rational.

Both are IBM software tools sets. Tivoli is an IT Service Environment Management Tool allowing the more efficient management of Business as Usual Software assets released into the production environment. Rational is all about tools designed to aid the execution of the most important iterative software development methodology of recent years the “Unified Software Development Process”.

None of these can be related to MSP!

They are BAU or Software development methodologies whereas MSP is all about how you manage programmes of work delivering IT systems / business process or societal change (i.e. Government Anti Drug Campaigns). MSP is a Programme Management Framework and is software or BAU IT methodology independent.
The biggest challenge these days is the lack of best practice concerning how to deliver large programmes of work successfully. MSP has its limitations bearing in mind it is focused on Transformational Change programmes, but is the best set of government approved programme management best practices currently on offer.

If the OGC (Office of Government & Commerce) recommend that all government departments run their programmes using this framework then it is a management framework with pedigree and can deliver real added value in its proper execution.

If you are an aspiring Programme Manager /Project Manager then you need to take the MSP practitioner qualification. It’s that GOOD!!!

If you want me to recommend a good training company send me an email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Posted by Kevin Brady  on Sun 27th July 2008 at 04:19 PM | #


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