Programme Management: Build capability, Roll it out, and Deliver Business Benefit

Some people view programme management as simply the management of multiple projects (see for example Johanna Rothman: Defining Program Management and How Agile Helps).

Although programmes often comprise multiple related projects this definition, for me, misses the real point. As I see it programme management involves three things: building capability, rolling it out and, most importantly, delivering business benefit.

MSP definition of programmes

I follow the definition of the Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) framework of the British Office of Government Commerce (OGC). Although MSP is proprietary you can find the MSP definitions in the MSP glossary on Best Management Practice site:

A temporary flexible organization structure created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to an organization’s strategic objectives. A programme is likely to have a life that spans several years.

Where benefits are:

The measurable improvement resulting from an outcome perceived as an advantage by one or more stakeholders, and which contributes towards one or more organizational objective(s).

And programme management is:

The coordinated organization, direction and implementation of a dossier of projects and transformation activities (i.e. the programme) to achieve outcomes and realize benefits of strategic importance.

So a programme is intended to deliver capability (via projects) which, when utilised, results in business benefit. I like this because it helps clarify what a programme manager is meant to do as opposed to what a project manager does (for more on that see Difference between programme, project, portfolio and product management). 

Steven’s definition of programmes

The MSP/OGC definitions might be true but they don’t really roll off the tongue. So I tend to paraphrase the MSP/OGC definition into the slightly inaccurate phrase:

Programmes deliver business benefit

But in reality management is most interested in cashable benefits. Given the money doesn’t doesn’t just appear I’ve ended up characterising programme management as a combination of building capability, rolling it out, and delivering (cashable) benefits.

Building Capability

I work in software delivery and in this context “building capability” means developing the system. Most of the subordinate projects will be involved in building the capability – I tend to call them work streams. Each work stream delivers some software component or infrastructure. Agile Project Management is useful for running the work streams. The programme is an overarching activity and the programme manager needs to keep close to the action – which is why I recommend managing on the ground. But the work streams are separate so, for example, I keep programme and project risks separate.

In MSP terms the components delivered by the work streams are “outputs”. But what we’re aiming for are “outcomes”, and that means change.

Rolling out the capability

The outputs of the work streams are, hopefully, useful of themselves but non-cashable. It is only when the software is accepted by the business/users, and in use, that the organisation starts gaining the benefit.

In software development rolling out the capability means persuading the users to adopt the new system and hence changing the way they work. Rolling out software isn’t a simple matter of a dictate from on high. Uptake is far more likely if the users feel good about the change. I’ve separately written about a couple of methods for rolling out software:

But the real secret is to have change managers facilitating the uptake in the business / amongst the users.

Show Me the Money!

You can only measure the benefits once the work stream outputs become ‘business as usual’ with the associated changes in operational practices and culture. In principle there are many kinds or organisational benefits but management tends echo the the demand of Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.) in the movie Jerry Maguire:

Show Me the Money

Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire

Show Me the Money!

There are only two kinds of cashable benefits: increased revenue or cost savings. Increased revenue comes from selling more goods or services and programmes are often set up to create new products or services to bring in new revenue. On the other hand cost savings are about efficiencies. These can come in a variety of ways but unfortunately cost savings often means losing head count, i.e. people.

Despite the fact that the ultimate goal is cashable benefits I’ve found a lot of value in reporting on Success Stories alongside Formal Benefits. Although management like the numbers, i.e. $ or £, they are still people and respond well to how the new system has positively impacted people’s lives.


For me a project manager builds capability, a change manager rolls out the capability, and a programme manager uses both of these to deliver benefits – usually cash – back to the organisation.


Rothman, J. (2010, July). Defining Program Management and How Agile Helps. Author.

Best Management Practice. (2011, November). Managing Successful Programmes 2011 Glossary of Terms and Definitions, Version 2. Author.