Managing Successful Programmes (MSP)
All organizations, whether they work in the public or private sector, and independently of their size, need some kind of program management when they deal with large programs that will have a significant impact on the company. Program management is a key tool to ensure that their business success is achieved through a beneficial outcome. This becomes increasingly important in today’s organizations, which face constant change in order to keep up in the evolving markets and stay competitive. For such reasons, it is necessary to follow an adequate program management approach that will allow leaders to tackle the necessary transformations and deal with the issues that might arise along the way.
The concept of Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) provides a methodology to manage programs undergoing constant change, in a structured and efficient manner. This will allow organizations to be more effective and provide better services. To achieve this, the main idea is to sub-divide the program into smaller, interrelated projects that are simpler to manage.
This article will address topics including the MSP framework, its principles and processes, to then provide a comprehensive guideline of how this method can be applied by managers to any program. Then, a thorough analysis of its potential limitations and the benefits that can be obtained from its usage will be discussed. The tools and techniques provided by the MSP are intended to assist organizations and leaders in achieving proper program management.
Introduction to Program Management
A program is defined as “a group of related projects and other activities aligned with strategic goals”. The idea is to merge the management of these projects to obtain extra value from exploiting project interdependencies, which would not have been possible if the projects were managed individually. Therefore, the need for program management seems obvious when having to deal with multiple interrelated projects. The ultimate management goal is to aggregate and coordinate all the involved projects in order to maximize the benefits and minimize the cost and effort required. Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) is a detailed approach to tackle program management, which is defined as “a temporary, flexible organization created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities”. When implementing MSP, project governance can be optimized by coordinating planning, sharing resources, setting common goals, etc.
Overview of MSP
This methodology was developed by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), a British organization in charge of suggesting best practices to achieve successful business, ranging from small organizations to large international corporations. Its growing global use has set it as a standard for program management, which has been widely used in a variety of complex programs, including the London Olympics. 
There are three main elements that form the MSP and that will be explained throughout this article.
- The Foundations: principles, vision, types of programs & benefits
- People: organization, roles, leadership & stakeholder engagement
- Structure: flow (process), themes, blueprint, tranches
The MSP framework is composed of three categories that complement each other to offer best practice for program management. Figure 1 depicts these three categories in a layered ring structure, where each of them is represented by a different ring. Starting by the outer ring, the principles, governance themes and the transformational flow will be explained in depth to demonstrate how they each contribute to provide a comprehensive program management methodology.
This set of principles represents ideas and goals that individuals should follow to successfully manage programs. Since they are very broad concepts, they can potentially be applied to all kinds of programs. These principles are shown in the outer ring of figure 1.
- Remaining aligned with corporate strategy: It is important to stay true to the corporate strategy when dealing with programs to make sure that they are ultimately accomplishing the company’s goals and vision.
- Leading change: Strong and transparent leadership is essential to ensure that team members contribute with their best effort to the success of the program.
- Envisioning and communicating a better future: A clear and realistic vision should be developed early in the program, which will serve as a guide to reach the desired future state.
- Focusing on the benefits and threats to them: The ultimate goal of a program is to achieve the benefits that were envisioned at the beginning. These should be the drivers throughout the program development.
- Adding value: A program that manages several projects should add overall value to the organization, as it can take advantage of the synergy between projects.
- Designing and delivering a coherent capability: The program should adjust to the previously defined blueprint and focus on managing the projects as a set and not individually. The deliverables should meet the expectations of the organization and should remain relevant to the organization’s interests.
- Learning from experience: A program should be able to adapt and improve throughout its lifecycle. Based on the experiences and results obtained, new opportunities that arise during the program can be detected and taken advantage of.
The governance themes encompass key elements that must be constantly managed throughout the program lifecycle. Therefore, they should be used as tools to implement the transformational flow steps correctly. These themes are further explained with a brief justification of why they are essential for the program development and its ultimate success.
- Program organization: Provides an overall management guideline that defines the different roles involved and what their tasks and responsibilities will be.
- Vision: It describes the main goal behind the program and guides the organization towards this desired objective.
- Leadership and stakeholder engagement: MSP highlights the need to keep stakeholders involved in the process by taking into account their needs and priorities regarding the program.
- Benefits management: It involves taking advantage of the benefits offered by the different projects that make up the program.
- Blueprint design and delivery: This is one of the most important steps of the MSP, as it defines how the transformation of the program will occur, from the current state to the desired future state at its completion. The blueprint can be seen as a model of where the organization would like to be in the future.
- Planning and control: These are essential parts of the MSP, through which the program plan will be developed and will be used to control all the smaller projects.
- The business case: Each individual project should have a business case, and the program should have an overall business case.
- Risk and issue management: It is important to keep under control the potential risks that might arise throughout the project, as well as developing contingency measures to minimize their effects in case they occur. On top of this, any opportunity that might appear and be beneficial for the project should be considered and exploited if possible.
- Quality and assurance management: Ensures that all resources are used as efficiently as possible, so the program objectives can be achieved within the predefined time and budget.
The inner circle illustrates the lifecycle of the program. It is shown as a flow diagram that includes the different steps that the program will follow.
- Identifying a Programme: It consists of developing an idea into a business concept that can be managed as a program. Several aspects must be taken into account before engaging in a program, including market analysis, requirements and resources that will be needed, stakeholder interest and investments, and potential benefits that completing this program will produce.
- Defining a Programme: Once it has been decided that this program is worth the investment, a vision must be established and it will serve as the strategic guide of the program.
- Managing the Tranches: Includes all the activities needed to manage and coordinate the different projects.
- Delivering the Capability: Includes the activities needed to deliver the predefined blueprint.
- Realizing the Benefits: Determines what activities should be carried out to maximize the benefits of the program.
- Closing a Programme: At the end of the program, once all the activities are finalized, it should be checked that the objectives have been accomplished.
The need for organizations to develop, improve and become more efficient is an increasing pressure that must be addressed if they want to continue to be competitive. This demand emphasizes the need for transformational change. In order for a company to succeed in such a challenging task an efficient framework must be used to provide this change. Implementing MSP can be very advantageous for an organization, as is explained in the following five benefits.
- Clearly defines responsibilities and sets direct lines of communication, which allows the interconnection of business strategy, organizational change and project delivery. The roles and the tasks assigned to each of them are well established and distributed, ensuring that each manager is in charge of a specific part of the program and is accountable for delivering their part. The highest role in the MSP hierarchy is the Senior Responsible Owner (SRO), who is in charge of managing the entire program.
- It determines the stage that the program is currently at and the future state that it is intended to be. This enables a rapid response to whatever change is needed to adapt the organization to new requirements, helping them stay competitive.
- The MSP helps create a clear and ambitious vision, that will support transformational change. Two main MSP concepts are used for this: the blueprint and the benefit profiles. The first one describes what the program is supposed to accomplish, while the former should include how the benefits will be obtained and measured, and who is in charge of doing so. These two tools help prioritize the different projects based on their output, keeping the program focused and on track.
- Not only does adopting MSP support change, but it ensures sustainable change, which in the long run will bring more benefits to the organization. By focusing on managing the truly important aspects of the program, it is guaranteed that no resources are wasted on irrelevant matters, thus improving the efficiency of the organization.
- The MSP framework offers a well-established managerial best practice that has been proven to work based on real-life applications all over the world. There are several tools (books, program trainers, workshops, etc.) that can be used by organizations to implement this practice and make the most out of it.
Furthermore, it is also important to take into account the following benefits that MSP offers:
- Creates a vision and blueprint for transformational change
- Designs the program to deliver the blueprint
- Identifies the right outcomes and benefits and plans for their delivery
- Delivers on time, to budget and desired quality
- Breaks down initiatives into clearly defined projects and offers a framework for handling them
- Defines responsibilities and lines of communication
- Involves stakeholders
- Manages risk and ensures the program responds to change
- Audits and maintains quality
One of the limitations of MSP is that it is quite a formal and complex protocol to implement that requires a lot of work and planning. Although in theory it can be adapted to all types of programs, the fact that it takes so much effort and there is so many people involved, might make it not worth it if the program is not large enough. An example of a program that would not get all the benefits that MSP has to offer would be a software development, because many times such projects require much more flexible management.
- ↑ ISO - International Organization for Standardization. (2017, March 08). Retrieved February 26, 2018, from https://www.iso.org/standard/50003.html
- ↑ 1.Introduction. (2011). In Managing Successful Programmes. The Stationery Office.
- ↑ Best Management Practice Portfolio. Retrieved February 26, 2018, from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/best-management-practice-portfolio/about-the-office-of-government-commerce