Programmes are more than Big Projects

Some projects deliver products and some programmes also deliver products. The difference is the goal. The goal of those projects is to deliver the product. However, the goal of these programmes is to deliver benefits deriving from the new product. I’ve written about the difference between programme, project, portfolio and product management before, but feel in need of a new rant – a rant brought on by DAD.

DAD Programs are Big Projects

I started to read Disciplined Agile Program Management 101 from the Discipline Agile Delivery (DAD) guys and got offended in the first paragraph.

An IT program is a large IT delivery team composed of two or more sub-teams. The purpose of program management is to coordinate the efforts of the sub-teams to ensure they work together effectively towards the common goal of producing a consumable solution for their stakeholders.

To paraphrase, a programme in DAD needs more than one team to produce a product.


For me that is just a big project. Now big projects are worthwhile and can be challenging, but programmes they are not.

While authorities – like Scott Ambler of DAD – continue to focus on the concrete deliverable/product they are distracting their followers from the real challenges of programme management.

More than a big project

The point of a programme is to lift the gaze from the deliverable, the product, the solution, and look at what happens when we have that product. What happens to the company? What changes? What is the strategic objective that made building the product worthwhile. What specific benefits are we expecting? More money? Bigger user base? Increased efficiency? This higher level focus of programmes is why Programmes are above Projects on the Value Ladder.

How are we going achieve those benefits? It is rarely a simple matter of “hey presto” when we launch the product. There is usually something more to it. There is organisational change in there. There are often interim benefits. There is usually also more than one product in the mix. I draw Benefits Maps to highlight the complexity involved in a programme.

Personally I believe Agile Programme Management is about Transformation, Alignment and Adaptation. Product development can be, and for me always is, part of that. But it is not the goal itself.

So, like the idea that the Scrum of Scrums is Agile Programme Management, we should relegate the idea that Agile Programmes are big projects to the dustbin.