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 allows 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
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines a program 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 be 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 and setting common goals.
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, blueprint & benefits.
- People: organization, roles, leadership & stakeholder engagement.
- Structure: transformational flow, 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 the stakeholders, always remaining relevant to their 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. They should be used as tools to implement the transformational flow's steps correctly. These themes are further explained below, 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 contribute to the program.
- Blueprint design and delivery: This is one of the most important aspects 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. This section will describe the iterative steps needed to achieve transformational change.
Identifying a program
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.
- Main steps to follow:
- Find a sponsoring group that is committed to the program.
- Confirm the program mandate, which should provide the general direction and requirements of the program.
- Select the Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) and program board. The SRO represents the highest authority in the program.
- Develop the program brief, which should specify the program outcomes and benefits as well as the plans and schedules to achieve them.
- Develop the program preparation plan, which is the initial planning phase of the program and informs the sponsoring group about the cost, time and resources that will be needed.
- Conduct an independent review to evaluate whether the scope of the program is realistic and the organization is capable of going through with it.
- In order to obtain approval to proceed, the SRO, the sponsoring group and the program board must confirm their engagement to the program.
Defining a program
A comprehensive definition and plan will be required to decide if the program is viable or not.
- Main steps to follow:
- Establish the infrastructure necessary for program definition.
- Create the team that will work on defining the program.
- Identify and analyze the stakeholders to engage the most significant ones from the start of the program.
- Draft a more precise vision statement that specifies where the organization will be after the program’s completion.
- Develop the blueprint, which is a model of the organization’s desired future state.
- Develop the benefits profile, which will serve to track their fulfillment.
- The benefits should be further modelled and refined based on the blueprint.
- A realistic validation of the benefits should be performed to avoid wasting time and resources on unrealistic benefits.
- Define the project dossier, which includes all projects and activities through which the program capabilities will be delivered.
- Identify the different tranches, where each tranche is a step in the program that delivers a certain capability.
- Design the program organization, which indicates how it will be managed and supported.
- Establish the governance strategies that guide how to handle difficulties while remaining aligned with the existing corporate strategies.
- Compose a program plan based on the information available on the projects, resources, risks, etc.
- Make the final business case with program information regarding costs, benefits and risks to help managers make suitable decisions.
- Finalize the program definition by joining all the documents that have been prepared during the “Defining a program” phase.
- Prepare for the first tranche.
- Obtain approval to proceed with the program based on the information collected.
Managing the tranches
This process will serve to implement the governance strategies previously defined and to oversee that the capabilities are delivered and the benefits achieved. It includes all the activities needed to manage and coordinate the different projects.
- Main steps to follow:
- Establish what activities make up a specific tranche.
- Doing direct work refers to the daily activities that the program manager will perform following the planning previously made.
- Actively address the risks and issues that arise during the program.
- Keep stakeholders informed of the program development.
- Conduct regular audits and assurance reviews to evaluate the performance of the program.
- Check frequently that the blueprint is still aligned with the strategic objectives.
- Keeping all the program information well documented and organized.
- Manage people and resources so they can be shared across different projects within the program.
- Identify what procurement and contracts management is necessary.
- Monitoring and reporting of progress to keep the program on track.
- Ensure transition and stable operations
Delivering the Capability
The goal is to deliver the predefined blueprint that will help achieve the desired transformational change. This will be done by delivering the project outputs. The steps will be repeated for each of the program’s tranches.
- Main steps to follow:
- The program manager is responsible of starting the individual projects.
- Engage stakeholders and maintain them informed of the program progress.
- Align projects with benefits realization by making sure that the outputs of those projects give the planned benefits.
- Continuously align projects with program objectives.
- Manage and control progress and risks.
- Close projects after each of them has delivered the corresponding outputs to the program.
Realizing the benefits
Determines what activities should be carried out to realize the benefits of the program.
- Main steps to follow:
- Manage pre-transition: It consists of the planning phase that prepares for the transformation.
- Manage transition: It involves actually managing the transition throughout the program lifecycle.
- Manage post-transition: It is the adaptation phase in which the benefits are reviewed.
Closing a program
Once all the activities are finalized, it should be carefully checked that the objectives have been accomplished. If this is the case, the program should receiver closure to avoid it extending longer than needed and using up resources.
- Main steps to follow:
- Ensure that the organization will continue to run smoothly even without the program’s support.
- Formal confirmation of program closure.
- Notify the relevant people of program closure.
- Review the program to check that the blueprint has been accomplished and the benefits realized.
- Provide feedback to help the organization improve their corporate governance.
- Break up the program organization in a structured way, releasing the individuals and resources.
Assigning Management Roles
One of the strengths of the MSP is that it clearly defines the roles and responsibilities from the initial planning phases. In the first step of the transformational flow “Identifying a program” the following functions are appointed, ensuring that everyone involved is aware of their tasks.
- Senior Responsible Owner (SRO): It is the highest role in the MSP hierarchy. He makes sure that the program runs smoothly and delivers what is expected.
- Program manager: He will be in charge of managing and supervising the everyday activities that make the program happen. Other responsibilities include selecting and managing the program team, handling the budget and overseeing the progress of the program.
- Business change managers: They are responsible for achieving an effective transition through the program. They lead several operational units that will work on implementing the change.
MSP strongly focuses on engaging the stakeholders with the project. The reason for this is that it allows continuous feedback from them. Depending on the program, relevant stakeholders could range from governments, trade unions or other regulatory bodies to customers, business partners or press and media. The following list summarizes the key points that a manager should keep in mind when carrying out the stakeholder engagement.
- Identifying the stakeholders: who are we dealing with.
- Creating and analyzing stakeholder profiles: what do they care about and what are their main concerns.
- Plan the engagement: when and how will it take place, who is the contact person.
- Engaging the stakeholders: define a strategy on how to engage them in the program.
- Measure effectiveness: analyze how their engagement has influenced the program.
Even though engaging the stakeholders is a major aspect of MSP, a manager must identify which stakeholders are most involved, in order to grant priority to those who are most relevant for the program. The following chart can help with this, as it is based on the degree of influence and interest they exert over a program.
Indicators to take into Account
Throughout the program lifecycle, the program manager should be aware of certain parameters that indicate whether the program is still on track. These are also important to keep it aligned with the corporate strategy, despite the unplanned changes that might occur.
- KPI levels
- Project-benefit-KPI alignment
- Program schedule
- Net benefit graph
- Benefits realization plan
- Key stakeholder satisfaction indicators
Benefits of Implementing MSP
One of the reasons why the MSP has been so successful worldwide is the flexibility it allows, as it is adaptive to different situations based on the needs of each company. Furthermore, it offers a proven and structured methodology for program management with the following advantages.
- Clearly defines work 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.
- It determines the stage that the program is currently at and the future state that it is intended to be. This enables continuous monitoring to check whether the program is still on track, if the benefits are still realistic and if there’s a need to make changes to realign with the corporate strategy.
- 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.
- It keeps stakeholders involved throughout the development of the program, which reduces the risk of handing in results that don’t match their expectations.
- 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.
Limitations of MSP
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 are so many people involved, might make it not worth it if the program is not large enough or doesn’t involve considerable transformation.
Venturing into a program is usually a complex task that requires high-level management, significant funding and extensive change within the organization. This can definitely be challenging and more difficulties could arise during the program, especially if it runs for a long period (eg. extra funding might be needed, it can become increasingly hard to keep up employee motivation or there could complications staying on track).
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, which occurs when an organization changes a part of its business in a major way. Furthermore, if the organization is undergoing a major, complex change there will be high risks to consider and numerous conflicts to resolve. In order for a company to overcome these pitfalls and succeed in such a challenging task, an efficient framework must be used to provide this change. Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) provides such a framework, as it is a powerful tool for managing programs successfully. Thanks to the many advantages that can be obtained from adopting MSP, it has become a standard for program management.
The aim of this article is to present an overview of the main characteristics of the MSP. It also provides a general guideline that program managers can use as an initial contact to start the implementation of the methodology.
- ↑ ISO - International Organization for Standardization. (2017, March 08). Retrieved February 26, 2018, from https://www.iso.org/standard/50003.html
- ↑ Managing Successful Programmes. (2011). London: TSO - The Stationary 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
- ↑ Managing Successful Programmes . (2011). London: TSO - The Stationary Office.
- ↑ Managing Successful Programmes . (2011). London: TSO - The Stationary Office.
- ↑ Sowden, R. (2011, December). How do organizations benefit from using the Managing Successful Programmes framework? Retrieved from https://www.axelos.com/case-studies-and-white-papers/how-do-organizations-benefit-from-using-msp
- Managing Successful Programmes . (2011). London: TSO - The Stationary Office.
Managing Successful Programmes is the official British Standard for program management. It is the main reference used throughout this article, as the goal was to explain the MSP methodology. Even though an overview was given, this book should be used to obtain further details and a more thorough implementation.
- AXELOS Global Best Practice. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2018, from https://www.axelos.com/
Axelos is the company in charge of developing global best practices for project, program and portfolio management. Their website offers information about their specific methodologies (PRINCE2, MSP, P3M3, etc.) and a variety of white papers related to real cases in which they have been implemented.