Note: U.S. spelling
has been adopted throughout.

Published here February, 2009.

Introduction | Book Structure | What We Liked
Benefits Realization Management | Downside | Summary


It is a common experience that when a new political party takes over governance from its predecessors, the first order of business is to distance itself from those predecessors by revoking many of the things that their forerunners put in place. It's called "putting their own stamp on the new administration". Nowhere is this more apparent than in the recent election of a new US President. One might be forgiven for believing that this is just in the nature of politics.

Conversely, when it comes to standards, one might be forgiven for believing that if the original work is based on sound principles, then any subsequent updating would build on the earlier foundations. Thus, experience in working with the earlier standard would provide a spring board for taking the practitioner to new heights. So, what is surprising is that this 2007 update of Managing Successful Programs (MSP), admittedly by an all-new team,[24] fields a document with all-new content that manifests the same imperative as the political environment. The only thing that has not changed is the title. More is the pity because this new MSP sets out a whole new perspective, one that in our view comes close to what we know in North America as project portfolio management.

To illustrate this dramatic change, in the second (2003) update of MSP, Program Management was defined as "A portfolio of projects and activities that are coordinated and managed as a unit such that they achieve outcomes and realize benefits".[25] In this third (2007) update, Program Management is now defined as "The action of carrying out the coordinated organization, direction and implementation of a dossier of projects and transformation activities ... to achieve outcomes and realize benefits of strategic importance."[26]

That means that Program Management is no longer characterized as managing "a portfolio of projects" but instead is now characterized as "the coordinated organization ... of a dossier of projects". To the extent that a "dossier" is little more than a "file full of papers containing detailed reports"[27] whereas a "portfolio" is at least a set of investor's securities,[28] i.e. investments, it means that program management has been demoted to a glorified exercise in bureaucracy and paper shuffling. Moreover, only outcomes with benefits of "strategic importance" now qualify as programs. We beg to differ.

Still, never fear. Once we are past the definition, the remaining text almost always refers to portfolios. Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. The latest definition also now encompasses those "transformation activities" that actually realize the intended benefits. Unless the organization in question is entirely dedicated to the management of one particular program, then we do not believe that this is appropriate. And we have good reason for making this assertion which can be explained as follows.

In the general case, the typical organization is made up of three separate and distinct entities. Indeed, the Guide itself makes this clear. In an early section titled "1.3 What is Program Management?" it states:

"Program management aligns three critical organizational elements:

  • Corporate strategy
  • Delivery mechanisms for change, and
  • Business-as-usual environment"

It manages the natural tension that exists between these elements to deliver transformational change that meets the needs of the organization and its stakeholders. It manages the transition of the solutions developed and delivered by projects into the business operations, whilst maintaining performance and effectiveness."[29]

In other words, those three organizational elements consist of the Executive responsible for the corporate strategy and general direction of the organization as a whole; Project Management responsible for managing the program and the projects contained within it; and Operations responsible for the delivery of the goods and services for which the organization essentially exists. It can be demonstrated that these three entities not only have entirely different priorities, perspectives and cultures, but are evaluated on entirely different criteria. Which of course accounts for the "natural tension" referred to in the quotation above.

The key point here is that it is the responsibility of Operations to take over the products of the projects and use them to generate (realize) the intended benefits. And it is the Executive's responsibility to see that they do indeed do so! Therefore, we believe that it is a mistake to suggest, in the general case, that Program Management can do it all.

Benefits Realization Management  Benefits Realization Management

24. Actually, 3 of the 37 people listed were involved with the 2003 update, one of whom was also involved with the original 1999 production.
25. Managing Successful Programmes, The Stationery Office, 2003, p5
26. Managing Successful Programmes, The Stationery Office, 2007, p4
27. Webster's Concise Electronic Dictionary
28. Ibid.
29. Managing Successful Programmes, The Stationery Office, 2007, p4
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