MSP® (Managing Successful Programmes) is a bit of a hot topic at the moment. We have had many questions coming in from our clients and delegates about the globally recognised approach from AXELOS. It's new 5th edition recently launched and also about when should it be the natural next step for them to take. When do we need it? Is it just for programme managers and so forth. Here are just a few we thought would be useful to post in response...

Q:  In a nutshell, why MSP®?

Today, more than ever the business landscape is changing. Organisations need to be able to transform quickly and effectively to prosper, and even survive. It is programme management that enables organisations to do this effectively. Effective programme management provides a mechanism for bringing new and existing projects and business initiatives to fruition within a single delivery framework. 

This change inevitably brings risk and conflict. MSP® provides best practice guidance on how to deal with these at an organisational level. 

Q:  What do we mean by risks and challenges?

  • Leadership is weak
  • Unrealistic expectations of what the organisation can achieve
  • Not enough focus on benefits
  • Insufficient support for the change at senior level
  • Poorly defined or poorly communicated vision
  • The culture of the organisation is unable to change
  • Not enough engagement of stakeholders.

Q:  So how does MSP® do its job?

MSP® identifies the three types of programme which organisations could potentially be running i.e. Vision led, Emergent and Compliance and puts them into the MSP® framework.

The MSP® framework

MSP® Principles. These are derived from positive and negative lessons learned from programme experiences. They are the common factors that underpin the success of any transformational change. The principles have had an overhaul with 5th edition. They are more aligned to today’s environment and each has a succinct paragraph and is dealt with under each one of the 5th edition ‘themes.’

MSP® Themes. Previously known as ‘Governance’ Themes. These define an organisation's approach to programme management. They allow an organisation to put in place the right leadership, delivery team, organisation structures and controls, giving the best chance for success. There are now only seven instead of the previous nine. There is now also  greater interconnectivity to the principles.

MSP® Lifecycle. Previously ‘Transformational Flow.’ This provides a route through the lifecycle of a programme from its conception through to the delivery of the new capability, outcomes and benefits. It is now more iterative in nature reflecting agile ways of working.

 Q:  I’m a Project Manager, I’ve done a PRINCE2® course - what could I do next?

Many project managers simply feel that they are running ‘very big’ or ‘very complex’ projects, or projects that “involve a lot of business change”. When this happens, they can say that they are struggling to apply PRINCE2® (or similar) to successfully manage these projects. These tend to be indicators to us that some programme management training may be useful to augment their project management skillset.

Much of what is described in MSP® would greatly help project managers, whether the initiative they are managing is called a ‘project’ or a ‘programme’. Some elements of MSP® are quite similar to elements of project management, but there are however, some significant differences.

OK – if you are managing relatively small, relatively straightforward projects, where you deliver a product and hand it over to someone else, then maybe MSP® will be of little interest. But as the scale and complexity, and particularly the degree of business change involved increases, then MSP® will be of increasing value. So MSP® can be invaluable for those wishing to evolve their skills further to include a wider strategic approach and manage projects (or programmes) with many interdependencies. Particularly with the new 5th edition incremental approach to change, project managers can now be even more flexible and adaptable.

So how does MSP® differ from PRINCE2®?

Simply put, is it a programme or a project? One of the main differences, according to the principles of each approach, is that project management (using PRINCE2®) is focused on the delivery of products or outputs, whereas programme management (using MSP®) is focused on outcomes, defined as the ‘results of change’.

Therefore, the scope of change required helps to determine whether project management or programme management is more suitable. Of course, as scope and scale of change increases, so does time and cost, which is why programmes are often lengthy and expensive.

But an initiative to deliver an output, whether it is a sub-set of a programme or not, may be produced using a project management approach (even if it is lengthy and expensive) providing the degree of change is low.

So, to quote the MSP® guide ‘MSP® represents proven good practice in programme management in successfully delivering transformational change’.

Another distinction between projects and programmes is that the benefits (measurable improvements) used to justify an investment, and shown in the Business Case, are typically realised after a project has been completed and disbanded. Whereas, a programme would have a lifespan that includes not only ‘all’ of the projects required, but also transition of project outputs into live use, and the subsequent realisation of benefits.

Click here to download a copy of the SPOCE MSP® 5th edition  e-Book


SPOCE Project Management Limited is a global leader in delivering best practice training for project programme and risk management. We offer a wide range of courses which can be tailored to suit any form of training need. For example, public courses e-Learning, blended learning, virtual classroom and client workshops. SPOCE is the flagship training provider for PRINCE2® and MSP® and were APMGs first ever training provider.

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Click to read more about MSP and it’s role within AXELOS ProPath study route

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* Information correct at time of broadcast.