MSP stands for Managing Successful Programmes and is a framework of best practice guidance for managing different types of programmes. Commissioned and backed by the OGC (Office of Government and Commerce) it was developed by the APMG (Association of Project Management Group).
Like all APMG products, MSP has a detailed manual which forms the basis of an MSP qualification. The manual was developed by the APMG in conjunction with the OGC, and is pitched at two different levels:
- Foundation – a test of knowledge about the framework
- Practitioner – tests the ability to apply MSP to real world situations
- Advanced Practitioner – Advanced (tests ability to design and execute an MSP Programme)
This qualification is the de-facto best practice standard for Programme Management in Europe with 1000s of qualified practitioners already and over 300 people per week sitting the qualification.
It is important to note that the only recognised alternative to MSP is PgMP (offered by the PMI). PgMP is largely an assessment based qualification which grades and recognises your previous experience in programme management which makes it un-accessible to inexperienced / aspiring programme managers. Whilst PgMP does offer baseline best practice guidance in the form of the Project Management Body of Knowledge and the Programme Management Standard, it does not offer to the same degree the detailed range of tools, templates and techniques offered by MSP.
Bearing in mind the PgMP qualification can take over a year to obtain and requires previous Programme Management experience, it is no surprise that MSP has gained such predominance in recent years. Even organisations like Gartner, who are usually ‘pro PMI’, stated that MSP is the de-facto global programme management standard during a recent presentation in London.
As MSP is a framework not a methodology, like PRINCE2, it does not offer detailed processes and activities. Being a framework enables MSP be adaptable, but remain robust enough to cope with the frequent changes in scope and ambiguity typically experienced in today’s programmes. This is clearly different to what is required of projects, where a flexible, dynamic scope usually spells disaster. Projects require clarity on scope and control over quality /time and cost in order to hit and achieve specific targets.
I have implemented MSP successfully on a number of high profile programmes in recent years and I regard it as an invaluable “pick and mix” selection of strategies, plans, techniques, tools and templates which are shaped around a fixed set of Principles, Themes and an all-important Transformational Flow. These are outlined below:-
These are the common factors that underpin the success of any programme:
- Remaining aligned with corporate strategy
- Leading Change
- Envisioning and communicating a better future
- Focusing on the benefits and threats to them
- Adding value
- Designing and delivering a coherent capability
- Configuration management
- Learning from experience
MSP Governance Themes
These define an organisation’s approach to programme management. They allow an organisation to put in place the right leadership, delivery team, organisation structures and controls, giving the best chance for success. These are:
- Leadership & Stakeholder Engagement
- Benefits Realisation Management
- Blueprint design and delivery
- Planning and Control
- The Business Case
- Risk management and issue resolution
- Quality management
This provides a route through the lifecycle of a programme from its conception through to the delivery of the new capability, outcomes and benefits. It is the engine or mechanism by which a programme transforms inputs and outputs from multipal projects into outcomes and realised benefits.
MSP does have its limitations and the authors themselves realise that MSP cannot be an “all things to all people” programme management framework. The MSP guidance manual clearly states that while MSP has great flexibility and requires shaping to the unique features of each programme environment and not the other way round, it is however better at delivering certain kinds of programmes compared to others. MSP has identified that programmes come about through the following ways:
- Vision-led Programmes – come into existence to deliver a clearly defined vision created and owned by those at the top of the organisation
- Emergent Programmes – evolve from concurrent uncoordinated projects that have grown within an organisation and there is recognition that coordination of these projects is necessary to deliver changes and the desired benefits
- Compliance – “must-do” programmes, where the organisation has no choice but to change as a result of external event, such as legislative change.
Furthermore, there are the following additional types of programme:
- Specification-led – Delivering changes and benefits to a clear scope or specification. For example, a new office block or a new transaction processing system for a bank. These types of programmes have low levels of ambiguity about what the programme is to deliver, but there may be high levels of complexity and risk in the delivery
- Business Transformation Programmes – This is where change is more focused on transforming the way the business functions – for example implementing a new service partnership or moving into a new market
- Political & Societal Change Programmes – Where the change is focused on improvements in society, and the level of predictability will be reduced as there will be many uncontrollable external factors to play
MSP even regards itself as being most useful when employed on Vision-Lead Transformational Programmes where the levels of ambiguity in requirements are high and the risks are substantial but has a definite endpoint. That isn’t to say that it can’t be used on other types of programme. For instance, with specification based programmes, because the scope is reasonably well defined and adjusted, MSP would be used in a scaled down form. With respect to Political and Societal Change Programmes MSP would be a good choice if it was not for the fact that these kinds of programmes have a tendency to be ‘never-ending’ and therefore morph into an expression of ‘business-as-usual’ / operational management.
Even though MSP has this bias to certain types of programme, from personal experience and broad research, it is the best programme management framework currently available. It is a great repository of strategies (governance), plans (when to do it), processes and templates which, combined with the concepts of transformational flow, really can provide programme managers with an opportunity to acquire a wide range of knowledge, skills and tools. MSP can really give a strong sense of empowerment and confidence for “newbie” programme managers wanting to start their next programme of work, and whilst I could conceive of running a (small) project without PRINCE2 I wouldn’t run a programme without using MSP.
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