Introduction to programme management

A programme delivers benefits to an organisation through change. Based on an agreed vision of how the organisation will look in the future, programme management provides a structured framework to co-ordinate, communicate, align, manage and control the activities involved.

What is programme management?

Programmes connect the delivery of change to the strategic objectives and direction of the organisation. Programme management is designed to guide the organisation through this dynamic environment, refining and re-focussing as necessary along the way. Programmes are concerned with delivering outcomes whereas projects are focussed on outputs.   

Purpose of programme management

Typically programmes consist of a number of projects. Programme management provides the means of managing and co-ordinating project outputs and capabilities in order to deliver business benefits.

Unlike most projects, programmes can be difficult to define and scope. Quite often, at the outset of a programme, an idea of the final destination exists but the precise means of getting there is unclear.

Some of the key documents associated with a properly managed programme are:

  • programme mandate (not always written down in a structured way)
  • programme brief
  • programme definition

The programme definition should include:

Diagram illustrating the typical context within which programmes and projects are initiated within the Northern Ireland Civil Service.
Context for programmes and projects to be initiated within the NI Civil Service.

Programme management guidance

Programmes by nature are complex. Programme management methods have been developed to help apply a structured framework to managing programmes and to aid successful delivery. In government, the Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) method is the recommended standard.

Programme management roles and responsibilities

The main programme management roles and associated responsibilities are: 

  • sponsoring group - senior level sponsorship of the programme providing the investment decision and top-level endorsement of the rationale and objectives for the programme; it may be known as the programme board
  • senior responsible owner - the individual who is ultimately accountable for successful delivery - achievement of the desired outcomes and realisation of the expected benefits from the programme
  • investment decision maker - the IDM's main responsibility is to commit funds for the programme; the role represents senior management’s commitment to the programme and the requirements for regularity, propriety and value for money
  • programme board - may be established to assist with the direction setting and leadership of the programme; the sponsoring group may fulfil the role of programme board
  • programme director - an optional role introduced in several large NICS programmes, the PD typically occupies a role between the SRO and the programme manager and may carry out some of the functions of both if there is a lot of complexity or there are several programmes within a larger overarching programme
  • programme manager - responsible for the set-up, management and delivery of the programme and for overseeing the programme’s projects on a day-to-day basis
  • business change manager - responsible for benefits realisation from start to finish and for ensuring the implementation and embedding of the new capabilities delivered by the projects; typically may be more than one individual and may also be known as the change agent
  • programme office - provides an information hub for the programme and supports the programme manager in day-to-day management of the programme
  • project managers - report project progress on delivery of agreed capabilities to programme manager  
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