What is MSP?

This is a question that quite often gets asked? Now let me start by saying it is not the folks at Holyrood. MSP (Managing Successful Programmes) is an approach to programme management developed by the UK Government that allows organisations to manage transformational change more effectively. So the question is how does MSP allow organisations to do this?

Well MSP is consists of the following:

7 programme management principles

9 governance themes

6 processes in the programmes transformational flow

So this is what we are going to step through in a bit more detail in this article.

The MSP Principles

MSP is a framework that is principled based. These principles reflect the good programme management practices. They apply to every programme and have been proven in practice. So what are they?

Remaining aligned with corporate strategy – for a business to move forward it will have a set of corporate objectives that it will be looking to achieve. How businesses achieve these objectives are by introducing the changes needed. This change is delivered by programmes and projects. Quite simply each programme of change needs to be aligned and will help deliver those objectives. If a programme is not going to help deliver those objectives the question must be asked why are we investing in this programme.

Envisioning and communicating a better future – stakeholders will only buy into the change if they believe in it or see it as being beneficial. That is why it is essential that that the programme team clearly communicate what that better future will be. This is done in MSP by producing the Vision Statement. This statement should show were the organisation wants to be once the change has been delivered. I always say think of it as a postcard from the future. We have all received a postcard from a family member when they are on holiday. What is the first reaction normally when you receive that postcard? I want to be there. That is the goal of the Vision Statement.

Leading change – for the change to be successful it needs to be lead. There will be key roles in the programme team who will be responsible for leading that change. The SRO (Senior Responsible Owner) is the figurehead for the programme but the BCMs will be responsible for delivering the change in their area of operations. These people need to lead from the front which will help with the buy in from the relevant stakeholders.

Adding value – it is key that adopting a programme management approach will add value. If the change can be delivered better as a project on its own then that is what should happen. Putting in place a programme management team and approach takes time and costs so that time and cost needs to be worth it – to add value.

Focusing on the benefits and the threats to them – as the MSP manual says benefits management are at the very heart of programme management. Ultimately it is the benefits that the programme helps the business to deliver that will lead to corporate objectives being achieved. If a programme is not going to deliver benefits why is it being undertaken? It is important that the programme identifies the benefits and focuses on delivering them. This also means the programme needs to be aware of the risks to achieving those benefits and managing those risks.

Learning from experience – whether it be business as usual, projects or programmes it is essential that organisations learn. It is important to learn from what has happened in the past, learn as we go and put what we have learned into practice. Keep in mind learning is not just about what went wrong. We can also learn from what went well previously. Learning will reduce mistakes being made again, re-work as well as just allowing the programme to continually improve.

Designing and delivering a coherent capability – the programmes projects will deliver the outputs that the programme will then use to deliver the benefits. It is important that the programme have a clear understanding what the changed organisation will look like after these outputs have been delivered. This is achieved in MSP by producing the Blueprint. A design of the future to be state of the organisation. This blueprint needs to be coherent so the programme knows what the projects must deliver to give the programme the capability needed.

The MSP Governance Themes

Programmes need governed. Governance is the control framework through which programmes deliver their objectives. To be successful the programme needs clear governance for its key elements.

These key areas that need good governance are covered by the 9 MSP governance themes.

Programme Organisation – it is important to have the right programme team in place. The programme organisation theme provides that guidance. It discusses the leadership that will be needed for the programme to be a success and also guidance on the programme organisation that needs to be put in place. The theme also gives guidance on the key roles needed such as the Senior Responsible Owner, Business Change Managers, Programme Manager and the Programme Office amongst others.

Leadership and stakeholder engagement – as we mentioned above it is important that programmes are lead. It is also important that the programme understands who their stakeholders are and how to communicate and engage with them. A stakeholder is any individual, group or organisation who have an interest in the programme. Some stakeholders may support the programme some may be against. The key is you identify your stakeholders and actively communicate and engage with them.

To help you do this the leadership and stakeholder engagement theme provides a 6 step stakeholder engagement cycle.

Benefits management – benefits are key! If a programme is not going to deliver benefits then why are you doing it? It is important that benefits are identified, planned, delivered and reviewed. This is the 4 step benefits management cycle provided by the benefits management theme. Also discussed in the theme are key sets of programme information such as benefits maps, benefit profiles and the benefits realisation plan.

Vision – programmes help deliver a better future – a vision. This theme covers one of the key pieces of the programme information – the Vision Statement. The Vision Statement should set out what the organisation would look like once the change and benefits have been realised. The theme gives guidance on what a good vision statement should look like.

Keep in mind the Vision Statement is what is used to sell the programme to the stakeholders, to get them bought it so it needs to be a compelling vision.

The Business Case – every programme should have a business case. The business case answers the question of whether the investment in the programme is worthwhile and continues to be worthwhile. The business case takes the costs and risks of the programme and weighs it up against the potential benefits. The business case will be developed as part of the Programme Brief and be refined during defining a programme. This provides the test of whether the programme is worthwhile.

However the business case should be reviewed and used throughout the programme to test the continuing viability of the programme. One of the key times this would happen would be at the end of a tranche of projects.

Blueprint design and delivery – the blueprint shows the design of the future organisation against the current state of the organisation. It is vital that the programme understands what the future organisation will look like. This can be done in one go or through stepped changes in capability by designing intermediate blueprints. This theme provides guidance on designing the blueprint and also on a key technique used to design the blueprint. The POTI model. The POTI model describes the Processes that need to be in place, how the Organisation will look and the Technology and Information needed.

Risk and issue management – managing risks and issues is important in a programme. This theme provides a risk management and issue management cycle to do this. Of course once of the first questions delegates ask on the course when we talk about risks and issues is what is the difference between the two? Well the answer is risks are uncertain events whereas issues are events that have happened. The key is we manage them both.

Planning and control – programmes need to be planned and controlled. This is achieved by having a Programme Plan. Also resources need be managed. Once of the biggest issues programmes have is having the right resources at the right time. MSP sets out have a Resource Management Strategy and plan. Also the projects need to be controlled and this is set out in the Monitoring and Control Strategy.

This theme gives you guidance on all of the above so your programme will be well planned and controlled effectively.

Quality and assurance management – quite simply quality and assurance is about doing the right things and in the right way. The Quality and Assurance Strategy and Plan allows this to happen.

Discussed in this theme are areas such as auditing of the programme, assurance reviews of the programme and how maturity models can be used to see how well programme management is embedded in the organisation.

The Transformational Flow

The transformational flow is the programmes time-based to-do list. It consists of 6 processes that take you through the steps needed in the programme lifecycle.

Identifying a Programme – this answers the question is the programme worth starting? It is normally quite a short process that will see the Programme Brief be prepared and the Programme Preparation Plan. This information will be used by the Sponsoring Group to decide the programme is a good idea. This is also where the Senior Responsible Owner and also potentially the Programme Manager and Business Change Managers will be appointed.

Defining a Programme – This is where the programme is planned in detail. The Governance Strategies, the Programme Plan, Blueprint, final business case etc. will be developed. This process provides 17 steps to be taken to ensure the programme is worth proceeding with.

Managing the Tranches – this covers the day to day activities of the Programme Manager and is also there to maintain the balance between delivering the capability needed and the rate of change the business can cope with.

Delivering the Capabilities – this process steps through how the programme manages the projects and how the capability needed is delivered.

Realising the Benefits – this process is the responsibility of the Business Change Managers and how they transition the capability delivered by the projects outputs into outcomes and benefits.

Closing the Programme – programmes are temporary. They should not run on for ever. The programme needs to ensure a controlled end to the programme and this is achieved by carrying out the steps in Closing a Programme.

So as we can see above MSP is not a Scottish politician! It is a proven and trusted framework to allow your organisation to effectively manage change and get the benefits needed.

Next up

Getting through the PRINCE2 exams

The PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner certifications are both valuable qualifications. Many organisations will look for project managers or members of the project team to have these qualifications. Although both of the exams are difficult there are certain recommendations I would give and also some key techniques that give you a greater chance of passing and becoming qualified.

So, what are these recommendations and techniques?

  1. Make sure you complete all the pre-course work. This is essential and it is why a good PRINCE2 Training Organisation will provide pre-course work for delegates. Having trained over two hundred PRINCE2 courses it has always been the case that better prepared delegates do better in the exams!
  2. Do the homework! The PRINCE2 course is like being back at school. There is the dreaded ‘H’ word – homework. However, if you do the homework you increase the chances of success. As I always say to delegates – the more you put into the course the more you will get out.
  3. When taking the exams make sure you read the question. One word or a phrase can make a difference to the right answer. You need to identify these key words.
  4. Use the process of elimination. Quite simply you sometimes get to the right answer by knowing the wrong answer.
  5. Make sure you get through the questions you do know the answer to. You do not want to spend too much time on questions that you do not know the answer to and end up having to guess answers towards the end of the paper. You end up losing twice! You don’t get the marks for the ones you didn’t know anyway and the questions you guessed you get wrong when if you had enough time to read you would have known the answers.
  6. Not a really technical tip but if you don’t know - guess! There is no negative marking so you have nothing to lose.
  7. For the Practitioner exam do not over think the scenario. Keep it simple! Also, always think PRINCE2. You are not being tested on the scenario. You are being tested on PRINCE2!
  8. And finally, something I say before every exam - relax and enjoy it! I know it sounds crazy but the more relaxed you are the better you will do.

Good luck in your PRINCE2 exams.

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