Alan Harpham, Chairman of the APM Group, UK

An update of a paper originally presented at The 16th International Project Management Association's World Congress in Berlin, 2002.

Copyright Alan Harpham.
Published here February 2003.

Abstract | Early Background of PM | Roles, Responsibilities | Why have PM?
Benefits | Program of Projects | Types of Programs | Impact of Differences | Part 2

The Impact of Differences between Types of Programs

Martin's paper goes on to demonstrate that for the project supply side the nature of the project dictates the likely relationship between the project time, cost and quality objectives. For example, strategic projects are usually driven by time first, quality second and cost last. Key operational projects are usually driven by quality first, time second and cost last, whilst support projects are usually driven by cost first, quality second and time last. On the other hand, high potential projects, by their very nature, preclude any meaningful trade-off between time, cost and quality. This is shown summarized in Figure 5.


High Potential


(R&D Projects)



Key Operational


Figure 5. The relative priority of time, quality and cost in a program

The Managing Successful Programs guide defines program management as:

"The coordinated management of a portfolio of projects that change organizations to achieve benefits that are of strategic importance."

Thus, the MSP guide does not define program management but rather refers to it as a portfolio of projects, in my view incorrectly. The guide goes on to identify five types of program by way of example, but does not claim it to be a definitive list where the program management approach can help. These types are Strategic; Business Cycle; Infrastructure or strategy; Research and Development; and Partnership.

A Strategic program is defined as a collection of unrelated projects which when integrated move the organization towards a set of pre-determined strategic objectives.

The Business Cycle program is a set of multiple projects which are coordinated within cyclic, financial or resource constraints. These are often a simple "portfolio" of projects in practice.

The Strategy or Infrastructure program is one where overall progress is dependent on investment in un-related projects to agreed standards or in activities that move the organization's goals forward.

The Research and Development program is defined as a set of independent project initiatives which are assessed and re-focused within given guidelines of interim and long term goals, and

The Partnership program is one brought about through the collaboration of organizations bringing together their respective competencies to provide mutual benefit.

Personally, I find much of these descriptions seem to sound like definitions produced in committee and sometimes difficult to follow. What is important to recognize is that they can be different, with different drivers, and different supply side approaches to suit the particular program's objectives. Fortunately, MSP is not designed to be a constraint on choosing the right program strategy.

In Part 2 of this paper I will explore some of the specifics of managing successful programs through the use of processes described in the MSP guide.

Types of Programs in Program Management  Types of Programs in Program Management

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