Are your programmes getting enough integration?

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Sometimes a broader approach to programme management is required. Programmes bring together related projects, which helps the programme manager manage interdependencies between these projects, facilitates control of resources, manage risks and identify opportunities to drive efficiencies. In a world where capital investment in projects is running at stratospheric levels, is programme management alone enough? Is a higher focus on programme integration required?

In this context I explore integration within complex infrastructure construction programmes involving several (or more) project teams which typically last several years. Familiar project structures will be in place and multiple project teams supported by one or more programme managers, however there are cases where such projects, even when contributing to a common goal, may have been initiated without formal relationships between them. 

In one situation, several construction projects were running concurrently in the same geographical area, delivered by different organisations. The client had awarded design and build contracts to different organisations on an emerging basis, even though the overall delivery would meet a common objective. Although some informal links were in place, it became evident during an independent risk review of one of the projects that there were previously unidentified overlaps between other projects. This warranted the need for more robust integration practices. An integration team was assembled but there was a high degree of ‘back tracking’ done to reduce the risk of future issues to the programme and satisfy stakeholders that the overall programme was being controlled satisfactorily. 

In considering the practicalities of integration there are several key areas of focus that can assist: 

Identify the need for integration resource at an early stage of the programme life cycle

This is key in defining the level of integration required. Within the transport industry that I work in, an investment framework process for high value capital investments is adopted aligning to the HM Treasury Green Book, which sets out Government guidance on the appraisal of public investments. This drives early thinking for how the programme integration is organised because the programme aspect of a major change is considered before the programme is broken down into project tranches. 

Produce an integration strategy 

If integration is appropriate to your programme it is helpful to draft a strategy with the input of programme stakeholders. This could include the following elements:

  • Consideration of what additional integration activities are required over and above those currently in place.
  • Definition of the projects and scope that require integration at programme level. There may be other interfacing projects previously not considered part of the programme.
  • Integration team resource requirements. This could be a virtual team comprised from key existing project representatives and supported by dedicated integration resources. Depending on requirements these could be current resources and / or additional resources.
  • A meeting schedule focusing on integrated activities and programme communications.
  • Engineering and design strategy. This is particularly relevant for large construction projects where there may be a need to integrate designs.
  • Integration of safe working arrangements in cases where different construction contractors are working in same location.

  • Methodologies for driving opportunities and efficiencies across the integrated programme, for example adoption of shared resources.
  • Arrangements for programme sponsorship, can this be a single sponsor to simplify matters?
  • Joint risk reviews, for example between project teams, contractors and client.

Produce and maintain an integrated programme plan

Individual projects often work to detailed plans on planning software such as Primavera, however I witnessed a programme where nine separate project plans from four different organisations on three different planning software systems were in existence. The integration manager conducted a workshop to identify the current planning landscape and explore how the various plans could be integrated. The benefits of an integrated plan include

  • gaining understanding of dependencies between the various projects;
  • identifying efficiencies across the programme;
  • reporting critical path, progress against plan, and forecasting.

Enhance collaborative working

As well as regular meeting schedules that bring key people together across the programme you may want to consider running bespoke collaboration events to enhance teamwork. Organising and running such events costs money however the benefits of engaging a cross section of people to exchange ideas can be extremely effective and new face-to-face relationships can have lasting benefits on the programme. This is especially relevant for longer term programmes where personnel can change regularly. An agenda for such an event could include a programme status check and reiteration of the programme objectives. However best value is gained from allocating ample time for delegates to network and discuss innovative ways of future working.

Integration at programme level can take a number of forms and can be very effective in enhancing the delivery of groups of projects that are related. I urge programme managers to assess their programmes to examine if additional focus and resources are required to coordinate the overall change being implemented. This may involve introducing an integration manager leading specific activities and engaging other specialist resources. Of course, there should be benefits available in terms of programme cost, time and quality outputs.

Integration will no doubt encourage good behaviours of all stakeholders and improve working relationships across the programme. Aside from large programmes, integration may be applicable to any group of projects that are related whatever their nature, size or complexity. Are you focusing enough on integration for your programme?

You can learn more about integrated planning in chapter four of the APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition.

Nigel Beecroft

Posted by Nigel Beecroft on 5th Sep 2019

About the Author

Nigel is a senior programme manager with a wealth of experience in successful project and programme management within manufacturing, environmental and transport industries. He currently manages major infrastructure enhancement projects on the railway. 

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