Programme management – an alternative architecture

Having worked on a number of major IT programmes, I have always been struck by the weakness of the traditional management structure. It relies far too heavily on a single player – the programme manager. So I have been thinking about how to make it more robust.

The traditional model

The traditional programme management structure is relatively simple, and summarised in this diagram (click to expand):


In summary, it identifies:

  1. A Programme Board, including representatives of major stakeholder groups such as business units and vendors, defines the programme’s strategic policy and goals.
  2. The Programme Director supervises the realisation of these policies and goals.
    A Programme Manager has day-to-day responsibility for delivering the programme as a whole.
  3. The Programme Manager is supported by small groups of specialists, notably a Programme Office and an Architecture team. By and large the architects are IT specialists, not functional or business architects, and the Programme Office provides administrative support, albeit very powerful and imposing it may be. It is seldom the central nervous system – making intelligent decisions as well as gathering critical information – that it should be.
  4. The workstreams on which delivery depends report directly to the Programme Manager.

Complex though this may seem, considering the scope, magnitude and value of the changes any large programme is designed to deliver and the complexities of managing literally hundreds of people and millions of pounds worth of assets across multiple organisational units, it is surely far too simple. Not only is it typically a relative thin management layer compared to the hundreds of staff under its control, but it is usually functionally poorly conceived:

  1. It fails to reflect the reasons why programmes succeed and fail.
  2. It fails to reflect or support the flows of information and decisions on which a real programme relies.
  3. It fails to define the management relationships and cycles through which a large-scale programme must be organised and controlled.
  4. It fails to identify many of the very wide range of stakeholders, interests and dependencies, both within and beyond the programme’s boundaries, on which success depends.
  5. It fails to create a real division of functions through which the Programme Manager can realistically manage the programme as a whole.
  6. It fails to establish the roles needed to pursue and manage these critical success factors.

Below a model is presented of the critical roles through which all these shortcomings of the standard programme management model can start to be resolved. It is by no means a completely original solution – some of the roles already exist in a rudimentary form in many programmes. Nor is it a complete solution: there are many more issues that need to be resolved before programme management becomes a matter of routine. However, from the point of view of most current programmes it is perhaps the single most valuable improvement currently available.

It should be emphasised that the roles described here do not need to be assigned to individuals. As will be argued in the section entitled ‘Implementation’, there is a maturity sequence through which any programme environment should evolve, from which these roles emerge quite naturally. The crucial issue is not how they are implemented but that the necessity to conceive of programmes in such integrated, systematic and dynamic terms is recognised – and acted upon.

A good programme management environment will already be someway up this model; the purpose of this paper is to indicate new directions for development and to accelerate the pace at which progress in programme management is made. On the other hand, although the additional cost of implementing the proposed model will be obvious, it should not be forgotten that one of the largest costs of current programme management practice is the cost of delivering late, over budget and short of the full planned scope. If the model proposed here can significantly reduce these other costs, its own costs will seem quite insignificant.

An alternative model

The alternative presented here (summarised in the following diagram – click to expand) assumes that there are fundamentally four dimensions to a programme’s success, and that a closely coordinated team of senior roles is needed for them all to be kept in alignment as the programme unfolds. These roles would report directly into Programme Manager, but their functions would extend not only across the entire programme but also far into the business as a whole.



Programme Architect

The first question any Programme Manager must be able to answer at any time must be: what is its vision? In other words, what is the programme going to achieve? That is, not only should the overall goals and objectives be clear but the actual delivered solution should be fully understood. As is now extremely well established, this goes far beyond technological systems: a successful programme also invariably delivers a huge range of new and improved environments, processes, organisations, technologies, resources and facilities. Most important of all, any significant programme must positively transform the very nature of the organisation – its performance, its competences, its goals, and quite possibly its ultimate purpose. The business blueprint documents far more than a collection of new systems and upgrades, and the Architect is its guardian.

What is more, the success of the programme depends not only on delivering ‘inventory’, so to speak, but also value. That is, the programme’s deliverables must be conceived in terms of their ability to produce success. That means that the architecture must be constantly modelled not only in narrowly technical terms but also in terms of fundamental business factors such as functional capability, impact on the business’s own ability to deliver, and ultimately the pure business benefits of profit, market share, ROI, and so on.

Hence the central responsibility of the Programme Architect: to maintain a single, unified conception not only of what exactly it is that the programme will deliver but also what exactly it will accomplish.

Plainly this is a more substantial role that that of current architecture teams. Indeed, at present, only some of these elements of architecture are actually under the direct control (or even substantial influence) of the programme as a whole. The role of the Programme Architect as conceived here is therefore far wider and more complex than that of the traditional architecture team that already figures in existing programmes.

There are many means for achieving this. For example, in recent years the concept of ‘Enterprise Architecture’ has emerged, which applies engineering-style concepts to the full range of business, processes, organisation and technology, thus producing an integrated vision of the organisation from the highest level of strategy down to the nuts and bolts of local systems.

Programme Strategist

If the role of Programme Architect is to define what the programme’s vision, the role of the Programme Strategist is to define its mission. That is, the Strategist defines exactly how the programme will go about its business. This includes identifying the specific benefits the programme will deliver, from which are derived the overall priorities and the top level delivery schedule. This in turn determines the financial profile of the programme, since it controls not only the internal rate of expenditure (through recruitment, support, licensing, development costs, and so on) but also how soon the planned benefits will come on stream – and, of course, how well they will realise their targets.

In short, the Programme Strategist is the key mediator between the programme and the business. Also, if the Programme Architect ultimately controls the maximum return the business can expect on its investment, the Strategist controls how fully and how quickly that maximum is reached.

The core of the Strategist’s role is their ability to manage relationship between the programme and the business. Business environments are always undergoing change, and so creating both new requirements for the programme and new opportunities to exploit (or discard) the capability the programme is designed to deliver. The Strategist’s function is to ensure that the programme is precisely geared to delivering the optimum balance of costs and benefits that can be squeezed out of a constantly shifting situation.

Hence the need for the Strategist not only to control and coordinate the plans for delivery and change but also to grasp and influence the business models and strategies through which the business as a whole operates – and to see the programme through the same dashboards and Balanced Scorecards through which the most senior management also see it.

Programme Engineer

The purpose of the Programme Engineer role is to ensure that the environment within which the programme operates is appropriate for delivering the Architect’s solutions according to the Strategist’s priorities. In other words, the Programme Engineer is responsible for the programme’s capability. This role again goes far beyond the normal technical environment that is typically under some degree of integrated management is many current programmes, and it is probably the easiest to complete according to the present model.

However, what differentiates the Programme Engineer from contemporary environment management functions is that it systematically connects the technical elements of the programme directly to its management. For example, progress management is normally achieved through more or less manual processes, which makes the real status of the programme very difficult to ascertain. In an integrated programme engineering environment, modern test tools would not only allow a far more systematic approach to verification but the results can be reported directly into management reports. This would provide a more objective and quantifiable approach to management while precluding a good deal of ‘noise’ that typically besets a large, politically sensitive programme

Within the programme, the main functions the Programme Engineer would perform would be to define, create and maintain the programme standards, infrastructure & operational processes; to set and maintain development, production and delivery environments; to propagate the results of benchmarking and internal R&D; and to ensure a common approach based on not only on comprehensive standards but also a full suite of reusable, generic delivery vehicles.

However, the Programme Engineer also ensures that the programme is connected directly to the business, operational and other external environments with which the programme needs to be connected if it is to succeed. Again, this has become considerably easier with the emergence of concepts such as Enterprise Architecture and Operational Management methods that allow more realistic analysis, tighter control of the change process and far more detailed of planning for changes to the current ‘business as usual’ environment.

Programme Controller

Finally, the Programme Controller. Again this role is largely a substantial revision to the conventional Programme Officer Manager role, but as with the other roles described here, the change is more fundamental than that would suggest.

Like any other form of management, managing a programme is essentially a matter of controlling three flows: information, decisions and materials. So it is the Programme Controller’s responsibility to ensure that these flows are in fact appropriate, effective and unimpeded by internal or external barriers, bottlenecks or biases. In other words, the Programme Controller’s job is to provide the programme with its knowledge. This naturally requires the management of traditional concerns such as the availability of resources or the traditional dissemination of management decisions and status reports.

However, in the context of a programme management structure that incorporates the new roles of Programme Architect, Strategist and Engineer, completely new classes of information and decision also need to be managed. The increased intensity of relationships within the programme and the far closer links these roles create with the external environment also demand that the role of Programme Controller is far more structured and dynamic than under traditional programme management arrangements.

By |2018-01-18T16:26:20+00:00Thursday, July 31 2008|Categories: All, Bureaucracy, Management systems, Programme management|0 Comments

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