Programme management – an introduction (part 1)

Change is part of everyday life. People change their place of residence or work, children leave home or the garden is changed; it’s part of life. The increasing social environment appears to bring us more choices, and these lead to more changes, which follow one another in ever-faster succession. This is also the case in organizations. Globalization, increased competition and changes in clients’ demands are just a few examples businesses are faced with. As the saying goes ‘change is the only constant’.

But the implementation of change is not easy. Change always involves risks and disadvantages, as well as advantages. They are dependent on many other factors; as soon as you change one item, you have to change the other factors too. Various parties are also involved, with different interests and priorities. Many changes are unsuccessful, cause much more trouble or are seen with hindsight to be more painful than necessary. There is, therefore, a clear need for a method of implementing change and thus increasing the chance of success. Programme management is such a method for successful and structured change implementation.

Project versus Programme
But first; both projects and programmes deliver change to an organization, but there is a fundamental difference between a project and a programme. Based on the book ‘Project management based on PRINCE2’  the following definition of a project is being used:


A temporary organization created for the purpose of delivering one or

more business products according to a specified Business Case


The Executive is ultimately responsible for exploiting the outcome and achieving the projected benefits. The benefits are only realized once the project has been closed.  A programme on the other hand is more than simply delivering an outcome. With a programme there is also the responsibility of achieving the benefits or part of the benefits during the course of the programme. A programme is defined as:


A portfolio of projects and activities that are co-ordinated and managed as an unit

to achieve one or more predefined strategic objectives


A programme achieves one or more corporate objectives of strategic importance. A programme is a temporary management structure covering all projects and a temporary management structure in between the projects and the (top) management of the corporate organization in order to ensure that new corporate objectives involving change are achieved in a structured manner.

In general the outcomes of several joint projects are needed in order to achieve specific corporate objectives. The duration time of a programme is longer than the duration time of related projects.

A programme must consciously be stopped. With a programme, the pros and cons concerning the investments in the change and the benefits to be achieved to justify the existence of a separate (programme) organization must be weighed up. In practice, a time will come when it is no longer necessary to manage the changes in a separate organization from a programme, but that this can better be done in the line organization. The programme can then be decommissioned and the programme organization discharged by the Programme Director. The end of a programme must therefore be self-determining and is not a direct consequence of a predefined outcome as with a project, where delivery of the outcome automatically signals the end of the project.

The benefits are defined from the corporate objectives of an organization that must be achieved with the programme. Therefore, a programme must develop a number of activities  besides carrying out a number of projects in order to exploit the outcomes. The organization must be prepared for the changes to be implemented. The outcomes of projects must be implemented in the organization, the organization must work with the new possibilities and it must be ensured that the new method of working is “business as usual” and that the corporate objectives are actually achieved with these new possibilities.

Programme management
Programme management provides a framework for defining and implementing changes in an organization. This framework covers making a view explicit, defining the blueprint and providing the added value of the future situation for the organization, as well as the organization and processes in order to implement changes and achieve the added value.

Within programme management the necessary projects are identified and started, the interrelationship of the projects is coordinated and the project outcomes to be delivered are tailored to one another. In addition, programme management covers identifying the added value of changes for the corporate organization. The added values are made explicit and managed throughout the life of the programme.

The basis for the programme must lie in the contribution of the objectives to be achieved in the programme to the corporate strategy in relation to work to take place. The basis for a programme is laid down in the Business Case. The Business Case must be checked throughout the life span of the programme.

Figure 1. Results of projects and outcome of programmes
(source: Project management based on PRINCE2)

Programme management environment
Corporate strategies can be implemented by individual company sections. Usually several company sections are involved in achieving the corporate strategy. It is recommended therefore to define programmes in order to achieve corporate strategies. Programmes make it possible to implement strategies over several company sections.

Essential to a successful programme is that dominant corporate strategies are established in the corporate organization and that they are supported by management and those carrying out the work. Furthermore, it is important that programmes are able to anticipate change in the corporate strategy and can be changed to the new initiatives.

Programmes trigger projects where new products and/or services are developed that are needed to implement corporate strategies, until the future vision becomes reality and the added value of the programme is achieved.

A clear picture of the future corporate organization needed to develop the new corporate vision is essential for the establishment of programmes. This picture, the blueprint of the new organization, must be clear and unambiguous to all parties and remain so for the duration time of the programme. Figure 2 shows the dependencies between projects and programmes.

Figure 2 Dependencies between projects and programmes
(source: Project management based on PRINCE2)

The programme management structure
The implementation of change in organizations requires a focused vision towards that change and a structured approach, coordination and management of the change activities. Programme management delivers this approach and helps to reach such a vision through a defined organization structure, phasing, processes, activities, products and the method of thinking. The methodology puts the organization and staff in a position to implement changes and to deal in a controlled way with uncertainties and upheavals that will appear during the process. The structure is also a base for development and completion of the necessary skills in order to implement the changes.

Programmes are different from projects. Whereas projects deliver products or services, programme management is based on implementing changes or realizing added value for the organization. Programme management is thus not only based on coordinating projects necessary for the changes, but also on implementing and securing the changes in the organization and realizing the benefits envisaged by the organization.

When should programme management be used?
With many projects and activities in an organization, the relationships between these and their dependencies on the (often complex) environment mean that change management demands a great deal of effort from the line organization and operational management. Carrying out changes with a limited capacity to realize them all has led to a need to find another method of control for managing changes. The characteristics of this approach are that we are dealing with phases characterized with much uncertainty and risk, and also with a clear link to the strategy of the business. Programme management can make a particular contribution in situations whereby:

  • There is a lack of clarity as to the goals to be achieved;
  • Complex changes need to be implemented;
  • There are strong dependencies between many projects and activities;
  • The available capacity is limited;
  • A turbulent environment exists within which the changes that are to be implemented;
  • There are many risks connected with implementing the changes;
  • There are various possibilities for implementing the changes;
  • The outcome of various projects is needed to make changes possible;
  • Management has to spend too much time on implementing the changes;
  • Implementing the changes has too great an impact on the primary processes, jeopardizing continuity;
  • This requires co-ordination of several initiatives, with common ground with existing business processes.

In summary, programme management can be used in situations where relations between the specialties of groups of projects are complex and where efficient use must be made of the shared capacity. Programme management can also make a positive contribution where the total costs of the change must be limited and managed, and where the focus on the objectives and benefits must be realized without too much disturbance to the primary process. Another reason for switching to programme management can be that senior management has to spend less time on changes.

Advantages of programme management
The benefits of programme management come from co-ordinated change management, governing the mutual dependencies between projects and activities, and a central focus on realizing the benefits. The most important advantages are:

  • Effective realization of changes by an integral (planned and managed) approach to various elements of change, without existing business processes being disturbed unnecessarily
  • Effective response to strategic initiatives by bridging the ‘gap’ between strategy and the realization of projects and activities
  • Focus on the goals of changes by providing a framework for senior managers in the organization whereby they can govern and manage the change process
  • Efficient resource management whereby programme management provides mechanisms for project priorities and project integration
  • Better risk management by placing the complexity and range of the Project Portfolio in a wider context
  • Realization of objectives and benefits by setting-up a formal process of Benefit Management.
  • Important steps in the process are: identifying, defining, monitoring and measuring the benefits.
  • Effective management of business objectives (Business Case). Setting-up and maintaining the Business Case allows constant appraisal of the best solutions from a business point of view and whether the continued implementation of changes is still desired
  • Gradual transition from current to new business processes. The transition from the current organization to the new way of working is a separate aspect of programme management.

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One Response to “Programme management – an introduction (part 1)”

  1. Dr James Bayley Says:

    Thank you for a helpful introduction to programmes.

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