When it comes to program management, one of the mistakes people usually mistake is treating ‘programs’ as being nothing more than a collection of neatly arranged linear projects. This is a highly simplified and often misleading way of looking at things, and one that can lead to a lack of proper organization and alignment, to say nothing of sub-par end results.
Of course, one thing that program management has in common with project management is the fact that it is constantly in-flux. There have been significant changes in digital, IT, and business management over the last decade. The result has been a high-velocity environment in which programs require structured speed and adaptability for organizations to remain competitive.
‘Managing Successful Programmes (MSP)’ is a framework created by AXELOS, an organization also known for PRINCE2 and AgileSHIFT. It is designed to align programs with corporate strategies and business capabilities in order to achieve maximum value and has set the standard in program management for decades.
In October 2020, AXELOS launched ‘MSP 5th Edition’, an update on the 2011 version designed to reflect the changes that have occurred in program management over the last several years. While it draws on the knowledge and perspective of highly experienced industry professionals on how to manage programs, it also delivers insight on the most common reasons why business programs fail.
Describing the development of the new framework, AXELOS wrote: “A lot of research has been published over the pasts few years that reports on the high failure rate of programmes, be they transformation programmes or large-scale ‘specification-led’ ones. The digital revolution, the speed of change, the rise of Agile ways of working, and the increased volatility and uncertainty of all aspects of life mean that programme management must evolve to meet these demands.”
Despite its focus on program management, the guidance offered by MSP 5th Edition is relevant to project, program, and organizational managers, as well as others. It remains an extremely useful framework for anyone requiring a top-level perspective of organizational strategy.
So, what specifically has changed about MSP?
What’s new in MSP 5th Edition?
While there was nothing wrong with MSP 4th Edition, so to speak, there is also no denying that things have changed since it was released back in 2011. As such, AXELOS has not simply added new content to the previous version of the framework but has instead reassessed it from the ground up.
That being said, those familiar with Managing Successful Programmes will find much of the format remains, albeit with different labels. For example, the Principles, Themes, and Processes of MSP still form the main structure. Other elements of MSP 2011 are also still intact and provide the basis for MSP integrated frameworks:
- Vision – MSP 5th Edition addresses the purpose and characteristics of a successful vision statement
- Benefits – This principle of MSP has a presence throughout the rest of the guidance provided by the framework
- Risks – Similar to Benefits, the assessment of risks is addressed in a variety of ways and across multiple stages within an MSP program
- Blueprint – The new framework goes into more detail on how a blueprint (now retitled as ‘Target Operating Model’) is best used
The Principles of MSP have been rewritten and modernized. However, according to AXELOS, they remain “universal, self-validating, and empowering”. Each is explained in a short paragraph that also details how Principles are adhered to within the Themes of the framework.
Similarly, the seven Themes of MSP 5th Edition (previously nine ‘Governance Themes’) are described with just one word each. They are introduced in discussions regarding the nature of corporate governance, programs, and the relationship between them. The MSP syllabus also covers the Themes in sections on program plans and strategies.
Every Theme chapter comes with four scenarios. These are included to help students develop a practical understanding of the framework, as well as how it can be adapted to a program’s reasons’ or ‘drivers’. These include:
- Innovation and growth
- Organizational re-alignment
- Effective delivery
- Efficient delivery.
Crucially, MSP 5th Edition has Principles play a supporting role to Themes. Each syllabus chapter looks at the roles, responsibilities, and information of individual Principles and how they are used to support the Theme in question.
Another change is that the ‘Transformational Flow’ of MSP 4th Edition is now known as the ‘MSP Programme Lifecycle’. We mentioned earlier that programs are often mislabelled as simply being a collection of projects. The MSP Programme Lifecycle describes them as being designed to achieve specific benefits for stakeholders throughout, with practitioners continually making adjustments and maintaining a consistent focus on learning, designing, and redesigning plans as they go along. This is a strong departure from traditional waterfall-style management and empowers MSP practitioners to achieve targets in a way that optimizes value.
The Programme Lifecycle contains seven processes designed to ensure a controlled start (Identify the Programme), a controlled end (Close the Programme), and a cyclical lifecycle in between. The syllabus goes over the objectives, context, and purpose of each individual process while also defining their inputs, activities, outputs, roles, responsibilities, and relationship to the Themes of MSP.
Studying MSP 5th Edition
As we mentioned earlier, the bulk of the MSP framework remains similar to MSP 2011 in structure as well as content. It still treats programs as being temporary, focused on beneficial outcomes, and containing multiple projects as well as other tasks.
MSP is still an excellent framework for organizations that require more guidance and best practices on planning and implementing complex changes. The latest edition incorporates insight from many of the world’s foremost experts.
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