Programme Management

Programme Management Guide

This guidance is for Senior Responsible Owners (SROs), Programme Managers and any others involved in delivering large-scale initiatives. It is designed to provide an overview level understanding of programmes and programme management and how they differ from projects and project management.

The guidance is not intended to replace defined approaches such as Managing Successful Programme methodology (MSP™).

What is a programme, and how does a programme differ from a project?

The ultimate goal of a Programme is to realise outcomes and benefits of strategic relevance.

To achieve this a programme is designed as a temporary flexible organisation structure created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to the organisation's strategic objectives.

A programme is likely to have a life that spans several years. A Project is usually of shorter duration (a few months perhaps) and will be focussed on the creation of a set of deliverables within agreed cost, time and quality parameters.

The term Portfolio is used to describe the total set of programmes and stand-alone projects undertaken by an organisation.

Programmes usually require the commitment and active involvement of more than one organisation to achieve the desired outcomes.

Programmes deliver, or enable, one or more benefits i.e. measurable improvement resulting from an outcome and perceived as an advantage by one or more stakeholders.

When is it appropriate to treat an initiative as a programme?

To treat an initiative as a programme there must be justification in terms of the added value gained by introducing a layer of management between corporate portfolio management and project management.

To be worth considering as a Programme an initiative must:

  • meet a strategic need;
  • enable and manage the realisation of benefits;
  • require high level leadership and direction;
  • involve a range of projects/workstreams/activities which together deliver the changes and outcomes
  • required to enable the required benefits;
  • be driven by either:
    1. a ‘Vision' (e.g. a new policy initiative); or
    2. a need for ‘Compliance' (e.g. introduce changes to make BIS comply with some new legislation or duty); or
    3. an ‘Emerging' requirement to bring together for cohesion and/or management efficiency a number of existing projects/workstreams/activities.

Programmes are likely to be:

  • Cross-cutting
  • Multi-disciplinary
  • Risky
  • Uncertain, with unpredictable outcomes
  • Long duration (spanning years rather than months)
  • Influenced by a wide range of interested parties with differing degrees of commitment
  • Impacting on a wide range of stakeholders some of whom may suffer ‘dis- benefits'
  • Liable to change direction in the light of experience and external events.

Early in the life of a new initiative you might like to consider it in the light of the seven Principles of programmes (as per MSP™) to determine which programme management approach is appropriate.

Alignment with Corporate Strategy

Is this initiative directly driven by a strategic need - e.g. as identified in a Corporate Plan/Business Plan? (NB. Whatever management approach you adopt you should of course ensure that the initiative remains aligned with the corporate strategy throughout its life).

Leading change

Should this initiative be led at a senior level in order to take a range of stakeholders on what might be a challenging journey involving many changes to such things as working practices, attitudes and behaviours?

Envisioning and Communicating a Better Future

Is there a compelling vision of a better future that the initiative must achieve?

Focus on Benefits and the Threats to them

Will the outcomes arising from the programme result in tangible advantage (or disadvantage) to one or more stakeholders within or beyond your organisation (including the general public and society as a whole)? Will benefits be realised during the life of the initiative?

Designing and Delivering Coherent Capability

Will the required outcomes and benefits be dependent on the creation of many different but related project outputs which must be integrated and implemented successfully?

Learning from experience

Has your organisation undertaken similar initiatives? Is there anything you could learn from the experience? Is your management culture such that you will continue to identify lessons during this programme?

Adding value

Will the cost of the additional resources required to manage the initiative as a programme be justified in terms of the increase in likelihood of success?

Managing Successful Programmes (MSP™)

It’s recommended that any organisation develops a programme management approach based on proven best practice from both public and private sector organisations.

MSP comprises:

  • Principles
  • Governance Themes
  • Transformational Flow processes

Each bullet above is expanded on in the following pages, but for full details you should refer to the published MSP guidance.


These are proven, universal principles that apply to all types of programme and when applied help achieve success. The seven principles are:

  • Remaining aligned with corporate strategy
  • Leading change
  • Envisioning and communicating a better future
  • Focusing on benefits and threat to their achievement
  • Designing and delivering a coherent capability
  • Learning from experience
  • Adding value

See the section ‘When is it appropriate to treat an initiative as a programme?' to see how these principles might be used to help you select your management approach.

Governance themes

The MSP Governance Themes are used to help you design and implement the control framework through which you deliver changes, achieve outcomes and realise benefits. The nine themes are:

  • Organisation
  • Vision
  • Leadership and Stakeholder Engagement
  • Benefits Realisation Management
  • Blueprint Design and Delivery
  • Planning and Control
  • Business Case
  • Risk Management and Issue Resolution
  • Quality Management

The following pages give more information on the above headings but for full details you should refer to the published MSP guidance.


This governance theme describes how to establish a clearly defined and effective programme management organisation that covers the roles and responsibilities of the Sponsoring Group, Senior Responsible Owner, Programme Manager, Business Change Managers and their teams, Programme Assurance, Programme Office, Project Executives, Design Authorities etc. The organisation might look like:

Programme Organisation

MSP provides advice on multi-organisational programmes where a Sponsoring Group includes senior representatives from two or more autonomous organisations (e.g. Government Departments, Regulators, Agencies) and the SRO is selected from one of those organisations.

Various types of Programme Assurance are possible from snapshots of delivery confidence obtained through Gateway Reviews and Health-checks through to part-time appointments to advise and support the SRO and other members of the Programme Board in the execution of their duties.


This governance theme describes how to establish a picture of the end goal the programme must achieve by producing a Vision Statement that:

  • Is easily understood by all stakeholders (short, memorable, no jargon)
  • Describes a desirable future state, not how to get there
  • Has implicit benefits arising from the transformation to the future state
  • Is compelling and motivating - engages hearts as well as heads
  • Avoids target dates and too many performance targets.

Benefits Realisation Management

This governance theme describes how to identify, define, track and optimise the realisation of benefits (and dis-benefits).

The most easily managed benefits will be tangible, measurable and, ideally, definable in financial terms. However, some benefits might be intangible (sometimes referred to as ‘soft' benefits) in that they are difficult to substantiate - proxy measures might be necessary to provide some evidence of realisation (e.g. a reduction in the number/type of calls to a Help Line might be used as a proxy indicator for the improved customer appeal or usability of a website).

The theme covers:

  • Establishing a Benefits Management Strategy for the programme.
  • Defining the attributes, dependencies and current/target values for all benefits and dis-benefits in a set of Benefit Profiles.
  • Creation of a Benefits Map to show how benefits relate to each other and to the project outputs and business changes that will enable them to be achieved. The dependency relationships in a Benefits Map show how project outputs ultimately lead to the achievement of strategic objectives.
  • Producing a Benefit Realisation Plan to schedule the benefits measurement activities and Benefit Reviews to enable tracking of the realisation of benefits across the programme.
  • Benefit Reviews which are led by the SRO and involve relevant stakeholders to establish the extent to which benefits have been realised to date and are likely to be in the future.
  • Benefits Realisation Manager an optional role to maintain the centre of expertise in benefits realisation within the programme or perhaps as a permanent position within the parent organisation.
  • Business Change Managers' responsibilities to identify and quantify benefits and to ensure that transition plans are designed and executed so that the enabling capability and culture is properly embedded into business operations.

Business Case

This governance theme describes how to establish an optimum mix of information about the programme's benefits, costs, risks and timescales used to judge whether or not the programme is (and remains) desirable, viable and achievable. Advice is given on the different areas of cost that should be estimated and balanced against the value of the anticipated benefits when justifying a programme and establishing whether it is viable and affordable, e.g.:

  • Project costs
  • Business change and transition costs
  • Benefit realisation costs
  • Capital costs
  • Increased operational costs
  • Programme Management costs

Many of these areas of cost will be identified as a result of developing the Blueprint and designing the projects that will deliver it.

Blueprint Design and Delivery

The Blueprint is a model of the operational capability that will need to be put in place to enable the required outcomes and benefits. The Blueprint comprises the current, intermediate and target end state of the key aspects of the business operations of not only the parent organisation but also any partner, customer and supplier organisations that must change for benefits to be realised. The ‘POTI' model is used to define the key elements of future business operations that should be defined in a Blueprint:

  • Processes and functions and their operational costs and performance levels
  • Organisation, staffing levels, skills and culture
  • Technology, tools, IT, equipment, buildings and accommodation.
  • Information and data

Leadership and Stakeholder Engagement

This governance theme addresses the approaches a programme might use to identify and manage relationships with the ranges of stakeholders who will have some interest in the programme and the leadership required to direct, influence and motivate others towards the desired outcome. MSP suggests approaches/tools that help in stakeholder analysis and engagement:

  • Stakeholder Map: used to compare the various stakeholders and their interests in the programme.
  • Influence/Interest Matrix: used to map the potential interest of each stakeholder against their areas of interest and hence work out approaches and priorities for stakeholder engagement and communication.
  • Stakeholder Profiles: used to record stakeholder information such as current and target positions in terms of levels of interest, impact, influence and support.
  • Stakeholder Engagement Strategy: the framework that enables effective stakeholder engagement and communication in the programme.
  • Programme Communications Plan: the timetable and arrangements for implementing the Stakeholder Engagement Strategy. This includes the messages, audiences, timing responsibilities, communication channels and feedback processes.

Risk Management and Issue Resolution

This governance theme is concerned with the approach to risk and issues management and how the processes will be applied across the programme, its projects, its transition activities and operational areas that will undergo change. The theme advises how to establish a framework for managing risks and issues and on the tools that should be used to capture and use information about them:

  • Risk Management Strategy: the programme's approach to the management of risk, derived as far as is possible from the corporate approach.
  • Risk Register: used to capture and actively manage risks to the programme.
  • Issue Resolution Strategy: the programme's procedures and mechanisms for resolution of issues such as change requests, requests for information, technical problems, stakeholders' concerns and suggestions. Again, the programme should take into account any relevant corporate approach.
  • Issues Log: used to capture and actively manage programme issues.

Planning and Control

This governance theme is concerned with the integration of the various governance strategies and plans to produce a programme plan and a control regime. The Programme Plan should cover key programme level events and controls such as:

  • The Tranche structure - how the programme is divided into tranches each of which delivers a step change in capability and some associated benefits.
  • Governance activities (e.g. end of Tranche Reviews).
  • Project milestones (start, finish, key events).
  • Project output delivery.
  • Interdependencies.
  • Key transition activities and milestones.
  • Communications.
  • Benefits management activities (e.g. Benefit Reviews).
  • Quality management activities (e.g. Quality Reviews and Compliance Audits).
  • Assurance activities (e.g. Gateway Reviews and Health-checks).

The plan will be influenced by the:

  • Resource Management Strategy: to define how the programme will acquire and manage the various resources needed to achieve the business changes and resulting benefits. This will include the procurement approach to be used and the method of dealing with resource conflicts across the projects and transition activities in the programme.
  • Resource Management Plan: schedule of activities to implement the programme's Resource Management Strategy - e.g. activities to establish frameworks agreements with resource providers and recruitment activities to obtain staff for the programme
  • Monitoring and Control Strategy: to define how the programme will apply internal controls to itself. The strategy should define the monitoring, reporting and control standards that will apply at programme and project level, the information required for monitoring progress and achievement and escalation routes for managing exceptions.

Quality Management

The scope of quality management theme covers all aspects of the programme (including its projects and transformation activities) to ensure they are appropriate and fit for purpose. This will enable stakeholders to be assured that the planned benefits have the best chance of being realised. The theme recommends the production of:

  • Quality Management Strategy: to define the approach to managing quality across the programme e.g. what will be subject to quality assurance/audit/review/control, responsibilities for quality management, standards and regulations, interfaces with corporate and other relevant quality management systems.
  • Quality Management Plan: the timetable and arrangements for implementing the quality management strategy.

Transformational Flow processes

A programme, being a strategic initiative, should be triggered top down by some form of ‘Mandate' from a sponsoring group of senior management, one of whom will take on the role of the programme's Senior Responsible Owner (SRO).

Programme Flow

The ‘Identifying the Programme' process is used to appoint the SRO who will then define in outline the programme vision, objectives and benefits and record them in a Programme Brief which contains an outline business case. This leads to the first key decision by the Sponsoring Group whether or not to commit resources to defining the programme and its management approach in detail i.e. whether or not it is sensible and worthwhile to start the Defining a Programme process.

The ‘Defining the Programme' process is where the Programme Manager and Business Change Manager(s) are appointed. They refine the elements of the Brief, build the detailed business case, design governance arrangements, develop the plans etc. At the end there is an important decision made by the Sponsoring Group whether or not to commit the resources required to carry out the programme and to give the SRO authority to proceed.

If the SRO is given the go-ahead then work commences on ‘Managing the Tranches' which is the process where day to day governance of the programme is applied by the SRO and Programme Board with involvement of the Sponsoring Group at key points (e.g. Tranche Boundaries).

Within each Tranche changes are implemented to enable the required benefits to be realised. This is achieved by the Programme Manager and Business Change Managers working closely together in:

  • Delivering the Capability is the process by which the Programme Manager initiates projects to create outputs and new capability
  • Realizing the Benefits is the process the Business Change manager(s) use to ensure that the project outputs are properly embedded into ‘business as usual', the required changes in operational practices and culture are achieved and, as a result, benefits start to be realised and are measured.

Eventually there will come a point when the Closing the Programme process is required. This is usually when the whole ‘Blueprint' for change has been delivered and benefits are materialising to a sufficient degree to satisfy the programme's Business Case. Sometimes premature closure will be appropriate if the programme's business case is no longer viable or if programme management no longer adds value. Either way this leads to the final decision by the Sponsoring Group to close and disband the programme but also to ensure that benefits realisation and measurement continues after the programme has closed. The main activities at programme closure are:

  • Notify stakeholders that the programme is about to close
  • Assess completeness of delivery of the Blueprint
  • Ensure all projects have completed satisfactorily (NB If the programme is closing prematurely then
  • ensure that any existing projects are transferred to relevant business owners)
  • Review the performance of the programme
  • Identify lessons that may benefit other programmes
  • Assess realisation of benefits to date (perhaps hold a final Benefits Review)
  • Update the Business Case and confirm it has been satisfied
  • Allocate responsibility for post-programme reviews of benefits
  • Ensure ongoing ownership of any outstanding risks and issues
  • Confirm that ongoing operational support arrangements are in place
  • Finalise the programme documentation and archive it in accordance with corporate policy
  • Disband the programme organisation and hand back resources and support functions.

What is the lifecycle of a typical Programme?

Using the MSP Transformational Flow model, a programme timeline might look as follows (not to scale). You will note the key decision points and the points at which the programme management information is produced.

Also note that Tranches may overlap in that projects associated with delivery of some element of new capability may start in an earlier Tranche than the one where the capability is implemented. This will be essential where, for example, a project involves a long procurement lead time and it would cause unacceptable delay to wait until all preceding tranches have completed.

Typical Programme

The importance of Benefits Management in Programmes

Programmes are designed to manage the delivery of Benefits, so what is a Benefit?

A benefit is a measurable improvement resulting from the changes and outcomes introduced by the Programme. A benefit must be perceived as an advantage by one or more stakeholders (NB changes and outcomes perceived as negative by one or more stakeholders are referred to as ‘Dis-benefits'.)

An assessment of the anticipated benefits is essential for determination of the initial and continuing justification of a programme. Financial benefits will form part of the Investment Appraisal in the Business Case and will be used during and after the programme to measure the advantage gained and the value for money achieved.

The most important benefits will be tangible, measurable and, ideally, definable in financial terms. However, some benefits might be intangible (sometimes referred to as ‘soft' benefits) in that they are difficult to substantiate - proxy measures might be necessary to provide some evidence of realisation (e.g. a reduction in the number/type of calls to a Help Line might be used as a proxy indicator for the improved usability of a website.)

Ideally it will be possible to establish the ‘baseline' current value for a benefit before any changes are introduced via the programme.

What is the difference between an Outcome and a Benefit?

An Outcome is a result of change which affects real world behaviour/circumstances and may lead to one or more benefits. Outcomes are achieved as a result of the work done by projects and other activities creating outputs and new/enhanced organisational capability.

Benefits are the measurable improvements resulting from, and enabled by, the outcomes. Hence the sequence of events might look like this:

Outcomes / Benefits

What is the role of a Benefit Owner?

A benefit owner should be someone from a relevant operational business area and should be sufficiently senior to be accountable for the delivery of that benefit (N.B. the SRO is accountable for delivery of the overall set of benefits for a programme).

Benefit Owner Role

A Benefit Owner must:

  • Participate in defining the benefit and agree its Benefit Profile (see below).
  • Work with the Programme Manager and other members of the programme team to optimise the timing of projects/activities to align them with benefits realisation.
  • Prepare the affected business area(s) for change.
  • Ensure that the changes introduced by the programme team are fit for purpose, will be operationally effective and will enable achievement of the benefit.
  • Implement the mechanisms by which the benefit can be realised and measured.
  • Manage the realisation of the benefit.
  • Ensure that the changes being introduced to enable the benefit do not cause any side-effects that could damage the integrity of business operations.

What is a Benefit Profile?

A Benefit Profile is a document describing a single benefit that records its attributes and dependencies. Every benefit described in the Business Case for a Programme should have a Benefit Profile. The contents of a Benefit profile might include:

  • Benefit Identifier and title: a simple unique identifier to make it easier to refer/cross refer to benefits e.g. B05 - Higher Earnings.
  • Benefit Description: Sufficient detail to make it clear and precise what is the benefit and who will be the beneficiaries.
  • Benefit Type: Tangible/Intangible? Quantifiable/non-Quantifiable? Financial/non-Financial?
  • Benefit Owner: (see above).
  • Objectives supported: e.g. PSA targets, Departmental Objectives, Organisational Objectives, Divisional Objectives, Compliance requirements. Plus, any relevant Key Performance Indicators.
  • Changes required to enable this Benefit: An explanation of the business changes and new/amended capability required and an indication of the organisation(s) within which the changes must be implemented. Where known, details of the projects and activities that will deliver the necessary changes/capability should be included.
  • Other related benefits/outcomes:
    1. A list of the outcomes/benefits upon which this benefit is dependant.
    2. A list of the outcomes/benefits that are dependent on this benefit. The Benefits Map diagram will be useful when identifying these interdependencies.
  • Stakeholders:
    1. Beneficiaries.
    2. Influencers (those able to affect in some way the achievement of this benefit).
  • Units of measure: For tangible quantifiable benefits there should be one or more direct measures. For intangible benefits there may be one or more proxy measures.
  • Method of measurement: The tools, technology, methods, approaches required to baseline the benefit and subsequently measure its achievement.
  • Resources required to track and measure achievement of the benefit (People, £, facilities etc)
  • Baseline value and timing of measurement: Actual or suggested.
  • Target values: For each measure a set of target values and timing. It may not be possible to define precise timing until the Programme Plan has been produced. In these circumstances indicate the triggers/enablers and any lead times for achievement of the target.
  • Benefit start date: Anticipated date is either a defined business requirement or derived from the Programme Plan (e.g. MM/YY for benefits commencing in a particular Tranche).

Validating benefit definitions

According to the best practice Managing Successful Programmes method (MSP) a benefit should pass four validation tests (the DOAM tests):

  • Description: Is it clear what precisely is the benefit and who ‘owns' it?
  • Observation: Are there verifiable differences that should be noticeable between pre-and post-programme implementation?
  • Attribution: Where will the benefit arise? Can this programme claim its realisation? Are there any other programmes that might also claim this benefit? Is ownership of delivery of the changes and outcomes that will enable the benefit clear and agreed?
  • Measurable: How and when will the achievement of the benefit be measured? Is it possible to quantify the benefit (in financial terms where possible)? Can sensitivity analysis be applied? E.g. best-case, most likely, worst case?

Managing Successful Programmes (MSP™)

APMG Ltd administers the MSP training company accreditation and examinations processes. Qualifications are available at three levels:

  • Foundation: a basic understanding of the MSP Principles, Governance Themes, Transformational Flow processes, Roles and Responsibilities and Programme information. Examination is by 40-minute multi-choice test typically taken at end of 3-day training course.
  • Practitioner: a more detailed understanding of how to apply MSP to a real-world situation. A complex objective testing exam lasting 150 minutes. The Foundation exam must have been passed before taking the Practitioner exam.
  • Advanced Practitioner: a three-hour written paper or dissertation based on a complex case study.

Glossary of key Programme Management terms

Business Change Manager (BCM)

The ‘change agent' role responsible for benefits management, from identification through to realisation, ensuring the implementation and embedding of the new capabilities delivered by the projects.

Change Team

A group of specialists appointed to support a Business Change Manager in the change management aspects of benefits realisation.


Outcomes perceived as negative by one or more stakeholders. Dis-benefits are actual consequences of an activity whereas, by definition, a risk has some uncertainty about whether it will materialise.

Emergent programme

A programme that subsumes one or more pre-existing projects into a coherent alignment with corporate policy and strategy.

Gateway Review

The Gateway Review Process examines programmes and projects at key decision points in their lifecycle. It looks ahead to provide assurance that they can progress successfully to the next stage. The process is best practice in central Civil Government, the Health sector, Local Government and Defence and is applicable to a wide range of programmes and projects including:

  • Policy development and implementation
  • Organisational change and other change initiatives
  • Acquisition programmes and projects
  • Property/construction developments
  • IT enabled business change
  • Procurements using or establishing framework arrangements


The result of change, normally affecting real-world behaviour and/or circumstances. Outcomes are desired when a change is conceived.

Outcomes are achieved as a result of the activities undertaken to effect the change. In a programme, the outcome is the manifestation of part or all of the new state conceived in the blueprint.


The tangible or intangible product resulting from a planned activity.


The totality of the change initiatives within an organization; it may comprise a number of programmes, stand-alone projects and other initiatives that achieve congruence of change.


A temporary flexible organization structure created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to the organisation's strategic objectives. A programme is likely to have a life that spans several years.

Programme Assurance

Independent assessment and confirmation that the programme as a whole or any of its aspects are on track, applying relevant practices and procedures, and that the projects, activities and business rationale remain aligned to the programme's objectives. See also Gateway Review.

Programme Board

A group that supports the senior responsible owner to deliver the programme.

Programme Management

The coordinated organisation, direction and implementation of a dossier of projects and activities that together achieve outcomes and realise benefits that are of strategic importance.

Programme Manager

The role responsible for the set-up, management and delivery of the programme, typically allocated to a single individual.

Programme Office

The function providing the information hub for the programme and its delivery objectives; could provide support for more than one programme.

Programme Organisation

How the programme will be managed throughout its lifecycle, the roles and responsibilities of individuals involved in the programme, and personnel management or human resources arrangements.


A temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products/outputs according to a specified Business Case.

Projects Dossier

The group of projects designed to deliver the outputs required by the programme.

Senior Responsible Owner (SRO)

The single individual with overall responsibility for ensuring that a project or programme meets its objectives and delivers the projected benefits.

Sponsoring Group

The main driving force behind a programme who provide the investment decision and top-level endorsement of the rationale and objectives of the programme.


A group of projects, transition activities and governance structured around distinct step changes in capability and benefit delivery.

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