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Six things you need to know to better manage the assurance of your programmes and projects

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The Golden Thread APM Research Report 2019 indicated that 8.9% of Gross Value Add and 7.9% of employment in the UK economy is driven by programme- and project-based working. The successful delivery of programmes and projects has a major impact on modern economies, organisation’s existence, and the lives of people. It’s important for us to make sure we get projects and programmes right.

Given the value, importance, and impact of assurance on the success of programmes and projects, we set out to explore and investigate the design and implementation of assurance management as a service in project-based organisations. Our research paper Value of assurance management practices has now been published by APM. The research explores the practices of five project-based organisations providing impactful assurance management. The analysis of these case studies provides insights into five dimensions of value-driven assurance management. It also provides criteria according to these dimensions, which can be used to inform expert judgement on the level of investment in assurance management.

If you’re looking to avoid failure of your programme or project, then you’ll need to make sure your assurance management practices are up to scratch. Do you want to know how to determine whether you are getting value from your current audit and assurance functions? Here are six things you need to know about best practice for programme and project assurance management:

1. It actively participates in the ongoing governance of the programme or project, informing decision-makers. Assurance management isn’t just about reporting faults to others outside the programme and marking the historical homework of the programme or project.

2. It uses a variety of methods that are adapted to the risk universe that surrounds and penetrates the programme or project. It’s not about applying generic checklists that are not aligned to the nature and severity of the risks.

3. It is a highly collaborative process integrating effort of the different assurance players that operate within and outside of the programme or project. It’s not about different assurance providers operating in isolation, and is about providing oversight that is connected to the work of the other assurance providers.

4. It operates at pace with a cadence that ensures timely and relevant information is being provided to decision-makers. It’s not about generating reports with detail that summarise historical or already known issues that are being addressed by programme and project leaders.

5. It demands experience that comes from individuals with specialism in assurance management. Assurance provided by generalists who do the work on the side of their desk cannot provide insight about what leaders can expect in the future and make decisions to respond to these eventualities.

6. Its value is determined according to the variation in the level of risk facing and the quality of insight required by programme and project leaders. Because a deterministic formula is not possible, the level of investment in resource is approached empirically, replying on the judgement of specialists who refine their assumptions over time using a particular set of value determining criteria.

The Value of assurance management practices research provides insights into the design, implementation and operation of an optimised assurance management service and, potentially, the ideal level of investment to achieve the optimal assurance management service. In practice, we encourage the five dimensions of an assurance management service to be rigorously considered when designing, implementing and operating the assurance management service, for example, when:

  • Drafting programme and project management strategy and planning documents
  • Designing programme and project management controls
  • Designing and resourcing programme and project management office
  • Developing a holistic assurance management plan for a programme or project.

Find out more when you read the Value of assurance management practices here. 

This blog was co-written by Dr Andrew Schuster and Sarah Coleman 

Sarah Coleman is a Chartered Project Professional, Fellow and former Trustee of APM. She is a thought-partner and advisor working at leadership team and board level across government, the public sector and private sector organisations.  Sarah has over 30 years' experience across the entire lifecycle from inception to closure and of every aspect of project, programme and portfolio management and of transformation across private sectors, public services and government in the UK and internationally.


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