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Is programme management only about change?

Happy New Year to all ProgM members from the ProgM chair and committee. Several weeks ago we published the "output from the strategy work" at ProgM’s AGM. Among the suggested themes for 2011 was to look at the scope of programme management so I thought why not start off 2011 with something a little controversial.

To date, guidance and especially books on programme management (including the Gower Handbook of Programme Management which I co-authored) have focussed on its central role as the mechanism of managing change in an organisation. Quite right too as this is largely where programme management emerged when many found that project management methods of the day (and still today say I) were not designed for managing very large and complex change. In this blog I am not addressing the differences between “major projects” and programmes as we can have fun with that debate later.

What I am addressing in this blog is the question: is programme management only about change?

As an observation my own introduction to programme management in the very early 1990s in British Telecom (now BT) involved both change and business as usual programmes. At that time programme management was primarily seen as a financial control mechanism for channelling and managing the annual and multi-year budgets. Everything, yes I mean all, expenditure was contained in programmes. Change programmes were used, e.g. to introduce new technology. Business As Usual (BAU) programmes were used for operational activity. To manage the BAU, activities were assigned to annual projects, e.g. the roll-out of fibre-optic cable. This had been introduced and trialled in a change programme, e.g. to prove both the technology and its installation processes. Each geographic BT region had an annual project which set the installation target and budget for the year, hence qualifying them as precise projects with Time / Cost / Quality parameters. The overall national roll-out programme for fibre-optic cable installation was a multi-year BAU programme that [a] planned the entire roll-out, [b] managed the full-programme budget, [c] managed progress nationally, and [d] managed learnings from each region that could be applied nationally.
One other little observation, we also had an enterprise PMO to oversee the “portfolio”, although we did not call it that, and quite a mature one too which worked very closely with finance.

So for me the principle of operational (BAU) programmes is just fine, we just need some guidance to be developed, both generic and industry specific. So, here is a challenge…..any thoughts? Any challenges? Anyone like to help take this forward?

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  1. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 14 January 2011, 10:11 PM

    A significant amount of work has been done on the different types of program by GAPPS - the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards.They have defined 4 program types and have produced a draft competency framework: Very Large Projects: Sheer size makes them fundamentally different from relatively smaller projects; eg, designing a new aircraft.Multi-Project Programs: Where the program is focused on deriving efficiencies through coordination  Strategic Programs: Linked to a specific business goal or strategic initiative; ie change programs.Operational Programs: Such as Railway or utility company maintenance, bounded by a fiscal year.For more information see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1022_Program_Typology.pdf