The 7 Principles of (Agile) Programme Management

I have taken the 7 Principles of Programme Management as outlined by the OGC’s framework for Managing Successful Programmes (“MSP”) and have attempted to elaborate upon them in the context of an Agile Environment.

1) Remaining aligned with corporate strategy

There are four common elements in a successful corporate strategy

  • Long-term, simple and agreed objectives
  • Profound understanding of the competitive environment
  • An objective appraisal of resources
  • Effective implementation

In order to ensure you correctly align yourself with your coporate strategy you must understand the following organisational characteristics:

  • Its goals and values
  • Its resources and capabilities
  • Its organisational structure and systems

In other words, What it Wants, What it Has and How it Works. A common way of portraying this information is via a SWOT framework i.e. the organisaional Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You need to consider the ‘Big Picture’.

These goals, values, organisational ablities and structures will influence and drive the definition and evolution of the organisational Product Mix.  The Product mix being the total product offering of a particular organisation i.e. both individual products and portfolios of products.

You may use a BCG matrix to assess the relative value and status of each product within your offering – your corporate strategy may require you to focus on developing/harnessing the strengths of certain products over others e.g. you may not be able to afford to take risks with low-performing or needy products (dogs & question marks), you may choose to sit on the old faithfuls or stick to sure wins for a while (cash cows and stars).

In Agile environments, the Product Manager takes responsiblity for ensuring that each Product remains aligned with Market and User requirements. It is also the role of the Product Manager to prioritise the development schedule in a way that maximises Business Value, which should in turn contribute to the realisation of one or more business goals. Larger organisations may have multiple Product Managers, Portfolio Managers and a Programme Manager – each level of hierarchy responsible for delivering a different piece of the whole.

Agile environments introduce frequent and regular ‘check-points’ into the mix i.e. iterations (Sprint Planning/Retrospectives). The iterative nature of Agile environments leave them better equipt to respond to dynamic market conditions – ensuring that they are maximising Business Value at all times.

2) Leading change

This does not imply change for the sake of change alone.  This principle embodies the importance of supporting and guiding a product or organisation through times of change. Strong leadership and direction is of paramount importance.

There are (at least) seven characteristics that make a good Leader.  I’ve listed these below and have noted a few Agile techniques/forums that support these endeavours (not all are exclusive to programme-level, but are necessary and/or relevant nonetheless).

  • Clear direction and communication – e.g. Epic Boards (Programme Roadmaps), Programme Planning Meetings and Scrum of Scrums, Sprint Goals
  • Gain the trust and support of your colleagues via consistent and transparent behaviours – e.g. Retrospectives, Collaboration
  • Actively engages stakeholders – e.g. User Research/Requirements Gathering, Sprint Reviews, Observation of Daily Scrum
  • Appoints the right people at the right time
  • Can live with a measure of uncertainty
  • Solves problems and identifies solutions – e.g. Retrospectives, Programme Planning, Requirements Workshops
  • Supports the transition until new ways are established and embedded – e.g. Retrospectives

3) Envisioning and communicating a better future

This principle conveys the importance of being able to define and articulate organisational goals, objectives and vision.

This may be achieved on a number of levels e.g. via the creation and communication of a vision statement, setting of programme Themes or even the agreement of a set of Sprint objectives.

This principle also touches on the importance of aspirational leadership – know how to motivate your teams.

4) Focusing on the benefits and threats to them

Successful Risk & Issue Management is key to the success of any programme – Read more about Agile Risk Management for Projects and Programmes and Agile Issue Management for Projects and Programmes.

5) Adding Value

This principle makes you question whether or not it is appropriate to run a group of projects/initiatives as a programme of work. It is therefore important that we understand what Programme Management is and why we use it.

The Office of Government Commerce’s MSP defines Programme Management as follows:

“…the action of carrying out the coordinated organisation, direction and implementation of a dossier of projects and transformation activities (i.e. the programme) to achieve outcomes and realise benefits of strategic importance to the business.

Programme management aligns three critical organisational elements:

  • Corporate strategy
  • Delivery mechanisms for change, and
  • Business-as-usual environment

It manages the natural tension that exists betwen these elements to deliver transformational change that meets the needs of the organisation and its stakeholders…”

If there is no benefit to running a collection of projects as a programme, then you are probably better of running a portfolio of individual projects – porftolio management.

In Agile environments, a Programme may be set up to address a particular Theme – this may be broken down into a number of epics, delivered by separate teams etc.

6) Designing and delivering a cohesive and coherent capability

Understand the ‘big picture and ensure that the elements of the programme remain aligned with the overall programme goal(s). This principle describes the importance of understanding dependencies between projects and products.

In Agile Programme Environments, the Epic Board and Programme Level Release plans help to ensure that cross-programme initiatives are progressing as planned. A key to achieving this coherence is strong cross-programme communication and collaboration.

MSP explains this principle as follows:

“[the programme]… should have such internal coherence that all quality requirements are optimised, being released into operational use according to a schedule delivering maximum incremental capability with minimal adverse operational impact”

7) Learning from experience

Ye Old Faithful Principle – ‘Learning from experience’ seems to feature in the list of principles associated with most management frameworks. This is for good reason.

It is so important for Organisations, Programmes and Teams to learn from their mistakes and seek out opportunities to optimise the way they operate/respond to changing market/business requirements.

The primary forum for reviewing and optimising performance in Agile environments are the Agile Retrospective.

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