UK: Programme And Project Management

Last Updated: 28 February 2012

Managing a programme or project is tough business. Programmes continue to grow larger and more complex every year – and the probability of failure increases accordingly. The media are always trumpeting these failures, often at the expense of the project manager.

Programme management vs project management

First things first: what is the difference between programme management and project management? These terms are often incorrectly used interchangeably. Though similar, there is a distinction that was clarified by the Project Management Institute in its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) industry guide.

Broadly, a programme consists of the total resources required to deliver and satisfy stated goals. "Programme" usually implies an ongoing activity.

A project is a temporary endeavour to create a unique product or service. It is a subset of a programme; programmes are made up of projects.

Each programme should be managed in accordance with the best business practices for cost, schedule and goals.

Responsibilities of the programme manager

Whether managing a large programme or a single project, the programme manager is responsible for its success. You ensure success by managing risks, which include those in the areas of schedule, cost, communication, change control and many more. To deliver a project on time and on budget, and meet expectations, you have to integrate customer expectations with resources: people, tools and budgets.

A dozen steps to a successful programme

So what makes a programme successful? Adopting the following 12 steps will help to ensure that your projects run smoothly. Although these steps are basic elements of programme management, few project managers consistently apply them to projects.

  1. Gauge project complexity

    Many projects start without full stakeholder understanding of their complexity and size. As the project progresses, the true scope emerges. However, it's often too late to adjust resources, budget and delivery date. A true understanding of a project's complexity will enable the development of well-designed and detailed project management plans. These plans require that each project task and discrete work element be fully evaluated and documented.
  2. Facilitate internal communication

    As organisations implement their programme plans, they often fail to communicate them effectively. Communication is paramount to programme success. All individuals associated with a project need to fully understand the project goal, their individual roles, and how their actions affect the project.

    Most major projects fall outside an organisation's core business, so the project manager may not have access to critical information that will affect the project. Without this information, the project manager is working in a vacuum and the project will fail.

    To overcome this typical organisational issue, the project manager must constantly communicate project goals and status to senior management and involved business managers.

    While the project manager may not have the authority to control the actions of others, information will allow him to proactively manage external influences. Full and fluid communication will mitigate "unforeseen" issues caused by uninformed individuals.
  3. Integrate key elements

    Successful programme management is no longer limited to managing a schedule. Programme managers need to integrate key elements of the programme to deliver it on time and on budget with available resources.

    Cost control, configuration management and resource allocation are inextricably intertwined in every programme. For example, a delayed schedule will mean cost overruns, and a seemingly simple requirement change can negatively impact schedule and budget.

    By integrating these elements, programme managers can understand how changes in one area can impact another and manage the programme accordingly.
  4. Instil measurable controls

    Although many believe that a completed programme is the chief measure of success, this is not necessarily true. There are several ways to determine programme success. Throughout the programme life cycle, there need to be milestones with metrics to measure the outcome. Every programme has a final, desired outcome, and metrics quantify these crucial parameters in a meaningful manner.

    Examples of meaningful metrics are delivering a product to market faster by cutting weeks off the process, or delivering a product with fewer operational defects. Metrics enable objective evaluation of programme success with bottom-line measures instead of subjective interpretations.
  5. Understand requirements

    Requirements creep is one of the leading causes of programme failure. To control this, programme managers need to thoroughly understand the programme's desired outcome, available resources and required delivery timeframe. Baselining requirements at the start of the programme is critical to success.

    Once the statement of work (SOW) has been developed, the programme manager is responsible for managing the programme accordingly. The programme manager needs to carefully review the addition of requirements or changes that affect the original SOW. As a programme moves away from the original SOW, it is difficult to deliver against the original requirements, making the measurement of success impossible.
  6. Plan the implementation

    A programme can have many resources and still not be successful if the resources are not integrated into an implementation plan. Developing an effective implementation strategy is key to programme success. Unfortunately, many organisations invest time and resources to develop a sophisticated plan, only to put the plan on a shelf.
  7. Evaluate the programme comprehensively

    Many organisations rely on software tools to manage their programmes. This is a strategic flaw. Tools can be used to help track a programme, not run it. Software reports can provide valuable insight into the collection of data, development of meaningful metrics and monitoring of the implementation strategy. Programme managers need to monitor their programmes from a holistic point of view, including data reports, communication with key players, and earned value management.
  8. Align customer and contractor expectations

    The programme manager and end customer should agree not only to deliverables, but also to overall programme goals. As a team, they should share a single vision for success. The programme manager should be aligned with customer expectations. If this does not occur, the customer will most likely be dissatisfied with some or all parts of the programme. This defeats the programme manager's most basic goal: customer satisfaction.
  9. Develop a "win-win" attitude

    A "win-win" attitude develops when the programme manager and end customer cooperate to achieve the stated programme goal. A "lose-lose" situation arises when a customer who takes little interest in programme progress outsources it to a contractor who then approaches it as a repeatable revenue stream.

    When a customer relies on a contractor to deliver, while providing little oversight, this can cause the programme to self-destruct. A "win-win" attitude will minimise conflicting interests and focus efforts on the programme.
  10. Formalise the programme management discipline

    Many organisations do not have the expertise in-house to effectively manage large, complex programmes. For an organisation to deliver successful programmes, the discipline of programme management must be instilled. A deep organisational knowledge of programme management and implementation will facilitate the progression of large, complex programmes.

    Effective programme management skills are learned. An organisation can develop these skills internally by instituting intensive programme management training or by contracting with an external firm to provide mentoring resources.
  11. Ensure leadership commitment and sponsorship

    Senior management must make programme success a broadly communicated priority throughout the organisation. Most organisations respond when leadership emphatically communicates its commitment to issues. For a programme to be successful, individuals at all levels of the organisation need to remain sensitive to the needs and priorities of the programme.

    The programme manager must be able to motivate and inspire those working on the programme and those affected by its results. Otherwise, the programme's goals and successes will not be known across the organisation and its true value will be questioned.
  12. Approach each project as a start-up business

    Any new project is a large undertaking. Budgets need to be carved out, resources assigned, control systems established, management determined, and goals aligned with enterprise strategy. For these reasons, projects should be viewed in the context of a start-up business. Typically, though, a project is viewed in the context of an existing project. As a result, resources and budgets are spuriously linked, to the detriment of multiple projects.

    For example, a firm installing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system may decide that it needs to upgrade the existing financial system. These are two independent projects. However, they are related to each other. Each needs its own resources to be successful. Without independent resources, the programme may fail.

How to deliver a successful programme

Implementing these 12 fundamental steps is crucial to delivering a successful programme on time, on target, and on budget. Although they appear obvious, many organisations resist implementing them. All 12 steps are essential, and it only takes one major misstep for a programme to fail.

What do you need to do to ensure that your programmes are successful?

  • First, carefully evaluate the existing status of your programme. Has every one of these 12 steps been implemented?
  • Second, review how the 12 steps have been integrated into the programme. Are there areas where the programme could benefit by improving a step?
  • Finally, continue to evaluate your programme according to pre-established metrics. If you notice a delay or budget issues, check whether one of these steps to success has been compromised.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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