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Papers > Programme Management

Programme Management v Project Management


An annual sporting programme has been used to compare the differences and similarities between delivering a group of inter related projects as individual work packages or to determine if it would be more efficient to deliver them as a programme of projects. Four sports teams are selected on an annual basis to compete in a National sporting tournament. The entire event has been broken into stages throughout the paper and each stage is individually scrutinised with the objective of understanding why, in some cases there is a benefit in delivering the projects as a programme. The sports event that is discussed in the case study may or may not have actually benefitted from functioning as a programme, however the comparisons that were reviewed, assisted in highlighting the differences between projects and programmes and identified the benefit of programme management, especially in larger groups of inter related projects.


Word Count: 4920

Key Words: Programme, Programme Management, Project Management


This paper has been developed with the intention of highlighting the differences and similarities between Project Management and Programme Management. There are some schools of thought that suggest that Programme Management is an additional layer of management in order to interface with the senior management of an organisation. Rayner. P et al (2013); “Programme Management is a thin layer of management forming a bridge between the Project Management teams and the organisation’s strategic team” and there are others that believe that a programme is merely a large project. Heathcote. J (2013); “Maybe programme management is simply the next layer of project management in relation to Work break down structure “ and Wikipedia define Programme Management as “the process of managing several related projects, often with the intention of improving an organisation's performance < (29/12/2013)>


The purpose of this paper however is not to draw down on a conclusion as to what the correct definition of the term programme is, but rather to discuss the risks and benefits of managing an event or group of projects autonomously or as a single programme of inter-related projects.

The case study that has been chosen to assist in communicating these points is not that of a typical project, but is a sports event, which would usually be seen under a heading of Sports Management and not Project Management, however this has been deliberately selected, due to the many similarities between the methodologies that are adopted in both cases, with the added benefit that the case study is relating to a National sporting event which seem to encompass many of the complexities of a programme, with a relatively small amount of total high level tasks compared to a typical engineering or infrastructure project. Brown. J (2008 p.26); “Project Management is simply the application and execution of structured, organised, common sense” 


The comparison between having a single Programme accountable for all of the deliverables, with the Project Managers having delegated authority for their individual projects and the individual Project Managers being accountable for their Projects with no accountability or responsibility for the overall objective, is discussed and the risks and benefits from both sides are debated. Brown. J (2008 p.10);  “Typically, the Project Manager is and should be more delivery and execution focused whereas the program manager has to also be concerned with the overall health and effectiveness of the program over the long term


Case Study

In 2003 the Action Cricket franchise in South Africa hosted an annual National sporting event including a full spectrum of the highest performing juniors cricket teams from all over Southern Africa. The country was broken up into 6 regions with one team selected from each age group from each area. There were 4 groups, which included under 13, under 15, under 17 boys and under 17 girls. Each region was required to complete a series of activities in order to ensure that there were sufficient players to make up the teams and that all of the players were of a level that could compete in a National competition.

Each region would need to treat this tournament as a programme of four projects, resulting in four inter-related, yet independent teams playing in a single National tournament with all players selected, trained and managed separately, however as they were representing the region, there were many shared dependencies:


Arranging for trials of these players, which would include arranging games in a competitive environment, to allow for the selections team to have the opportunity to see them playing at their best.


Creating a selection criteria and process for the selection of the most skilled players in their age group


Employing the team Managers and Coaches


Team clothing, both playing and leisure


Searching the region for skilled players


Arranging for appropriate training times and venues


Creation of a committee






Announcing the teams


Post tournament briefings

Fund raising


Meals and well being

Team building



Table 1 – Shared dependencies


The creation and development of the ‘teams’ ultimately competing in the tournament from the scouting of the players, to post tournament briefing, is usually overseen by a committee who will select / elect either individual management teams or in some cases a single manager to manage and coordinate all four teams. In this case study a Sports manager, managed all four teams as a programme.


In most sporting tournaments, the start date is crucial and cannot be missed, as missing the tournament date results in ultimate project failure. Turner. J (2009 p.8); “On some projects, the Olympic games for instance the project must be completed to the nearest minute” this can be said for most sporting projects, bearing in mind that although the infrastructure project will need to be ready in order to host the entire event, if one country does not complete their preparations on time, then although the games may still be a success for the Olympics committee the individual country’s objectives will fail.



Papers and texts have been reviewed with the intention of understanding any fundamental differences between a programme of projects and a large project. If there is an assumption that Heathcote is correct, then it can likewise be assumed that each project is made up of smaller ‘mini’ projects (tasks) and that these tasks can be broken down even further, until each task is reduced to an individual action, but as this paper relates to Programme Management, focus will be on the other end of the spectrum.   

Research was conducted into a typical sporting event, highlights the individual risks and benefits of managing several inter-related projects as a single programme. Interviews were conducted with individuals related to the case study, discussing previous events of a similar nature that were run as independent projects rather than that of a programme. This particular case study was chosen specifically for this paper, as all four projects are very similar in nature and although they all have the same target completion date, they can be managed completely differently. It is important to understand that each team would strive for individual success and that the region, run by the programme would be working towards total success.

A comparison will be made between, this case study, other sporting events and typical infrastructure projects, detailing the similarities between sporting projects and other projects, pointing out a further similarity between the need for managing large sports events as a programme of projects to increase the chances of total success, in the same way as ‘Team GB’ worked as a single programme to ensure maximum medals in the summer Olympics 2012.


Further references are made to programme management lectures that have been attended and to articles and papers that have been researched on the Internet. 



Prior to compiling information for this paper, it was important to ascertain an interpretation of what the general consensus is of the definition of programme management, to achieve this, various publications and unpublished papers were reviewed. Wikipedia (2014)Program management or programme management is the process of managing several related projects, often with the intention of improving an organization's performance. In practice and in its aims it is often closely related to systems engineering and industrial engineeringBrown. J (2008 P.7); “The program manager is responsible for creating the business environment culture the project manager complies with to execute” Parametric Technology Corporation PTC © (2007)“Program management is the business process responsible for coordi­nating the complex interdependencies among a group of related product development projects, particularly those governed by a contract between enterprises” Carter. P (2014)Is programme management just multiple projects, managed together or is it more than that? The guidelines of MSP clearly show that it is much more than a disparate collection of projects acting independently” Turner (1999); “A group of projects managed together for added benefit” After reviewing the definitions and for the purpose of this paper; programme management will be defined as ‘A group of interrelated projects whereby the strategic business benefits will be more readily realised by a single management team”     

Risk management

It can be assumed that the methodology behind managing risk in both Programme and Project management is similar.Brown. J (2008 P.176); “Risks are events that are uncertain. Should they materialise who have either positive or negative impact on the project or program” but it may be found that the types of risk differ between the two. Taking the case study as an example, the risk of an injury to one of the team members participating, would result in fielding a weaker side, resulting in mitigating this by changing the partnerships to strengthen the weaker player that is introduced. This would have very little effect of the over all programme, and no effect on the other projects (teams) that are operating within the programme. In the same respect the risk of a late delivery of the playing kit would be a risk that would need to be managed at programme level, as the individual project managers (team managers) would not have any authority in this area.

Resource management

Arguably one of the most effective differences between project management and programme management is the different manner in which resource can be managed. Typically a project will manage the resource as and when required, often resulting in the necessity to reduce the resource level at low points, thereby losing valuable knowledge. There is a technique known as ‘Resource smoothing’ which will assist in counteracting this effect, APM (2014); “A scheduling calculation that involves utilising floator increasing or decreasing the resources required for specific activities, such that any peaks and troughs of resource usage are smoothed out. This does not affect the overall duration. It is also known as time limited resource scheduling” however this technique is not always possible. JISC InfoNet (2014);Traditional Project Management approaches tend to look at a project as a discrete entity having its own set of resources (the budget and project team) and producing its own set of deliverables that deliver benefit to the organisation” With programme management it is expected that key resource can simply be moved and utilised in other areas of the programme that are experiencing a peak in resource requirement at the time allowing for the valued knowledge to remain in the programme for future requirements. JISC InfoNet also state that large organisations that have multiple projects running at the same time are often internally in competition for resource “Programme Management enables resources to be shared across projects, thus reducing the problems faced by individual Project Managers and recognises the dependencies that exist between projects


Benefit identification and realisation

The APM state that a programme will deliver the strategic benefit to the business, APM (2012 P.2520 of 4746);“The benefits associated with strategic organisational change are delivered through programmes of multiple-aligned projects and change management activity” which would suggest that other project related benefits would be delivered by the individual project. Pennypacker. J (2002) depicts the additional benefit that can be achieved by programme management.  


Realisable Benefits of improved Programme Management

The Value of Project Management

Diagram 1 - Pennypacker. J (2002)


The Value of Project management – Centre of business practices, PM Solutions



If the assumption is made that a programme is merely a project with an additional layering of WBS, as Heathcote suggests, then a further assumption can be made, suggesting that all of the additional (higher) level requirements will likewise become more complex resulting in the coordination of those requirements becoming that much more important. Brown. J (2008 p.32); “Programmes have a higher level of complexity than projects, involve more and higher-level stakeholders, utilise more resources, have more conflict, and require more coordination”


JISC InfoNet (2014) clearly illustrates the wider strategic benefit to running a group of projects as a single programme, shown in Table 2.  


Project features

Programme Features


Closely bounded and scoped deliverables

Benefits after closure



Wider strategic benefits

Complex relationships

Benefits during and after

Benefits management

Transition to a new state

Table 2 - JISC InfoNet (2014)



On the surface, sporting events, like projects are results driven, if the teams that are sent on tournament achieve their objective then the event is deemed a success and if the objectives are not met, then the event is deemed a failure. A success or failure will result in pretty much the same outcome, as the new objectives for the following tournaments will typically be to either aim higher in the event that the objectives were achieved or to achieve the objectives that had not been achieved in the previous failed tournament. The interesting point is to determine what were the objectives or success criteria for this event. There were many different points of view regarding this:

·       Parents– Low cost, as all parents were responsible for the cost of their child. Individual achievements and awards for their child, regardless of were the team was placed in the tournament.

·       Players– Winning each game, winning the tournament.

·       Management / Coach– Winning the tournament, (not worried about winning each game, as long as they win the tournament), ensuring that there are no injuries, keeping everybody happy (especially parents), limiting the number of incidents.

·       Programme team– Accommodation, transport and kit to be correct, all members of the teams to be fit to play, tournament to go without incident.

·       Sports Committee– Creating awareness for the sport in the region, in order to encourage other juniors to want to take up the sport, which will strengthen the teams for the following year and ensure that there are always new players coming through the system, this would be achievable with good individual and over all results.

·       Spectators – High-level games are played, with the benefit of the chosen side winning.


In this case it seemed that the programme team was the ‘thin layer of management’ between the Parents / Players / Coach and the Sports Committee, however it is evident that the various ‘Stakeholders’ had very different objectives for the tournament.


The programme worked towards ensuring that the logistics of the tournament were in order for all of the teams, with the intention to ensure that all other stakeholders could focus on their individual tasks. For example in previous tournaments the team managers were responsible for sourcing the playing kit, negotiating the costs and all other kit related issues. In this instance the programme assumed responsibility for all four teams, resulting in a single source supplier, lower prices and more consistency in design between all teams. This however introduces risk, previously, if one team did not receive their kit, the remaining three teams could still go on tournament, however by joining up the buying power and in the event that the supplier fails to supply on time then all teams will not be able to attend the tournament.




Considering that the purpose of this paper is to determine if there is a benefit from running a group of inter-related projects as a single programme and to discuss the areas that would benefit from a programme type approach highlighting the obvious shortfalls. By making use of the case study one could assume that a programme is beneficial, however there were many points within the programme that may have benefited from complete autonomy.


Taking the Milestones from the schedule, each point can be identified and discussed to the viability of the benefit that a programme may have had.


Strategy for new players (Feasibility)

Senior Leadership Strategy (Stage 1)


Introduction of players

Business outputs (Stage 2)

Selection (Managers / Coaches / Players)

Sports Association (Stage 3)

Identify and secure suitable training venue

Initial general meeting

Association / Player (Stage 4)

Kit – fit out

Kit delivery

Travel arrangement


Return home safely

Close out

Players / Business (Stage 5)

Post Tournament briefing

Association / Players / Business (Stage 6)

Post tournament celebration

Benefit realisation

Senior Leadership (Stage 7)

Table 3 – Milestones from the Sports event case study


Stages 1 & 7(feasibility) are senior leadership stages, which would not be managed by the managers of the teams and Stage 2 (concept design) is a business output and again would not be managed by individual team managers or in fact by the programme Rayner. P (2013 p.63);A programme manager cannot be responsible delivering benefits”, however as the programme team will work closer to the Senior Leadership team (SLT) than that of the individual project managers, he will at the very least have a better insight of the business strategy going forward. Allowing for the business to capitalise on the tournament outcome.

Stage 3(Detailed design)

The selection criteria and selection process of the managers / Coaches and teams can be easily done by the sports committee (association) without including the business, allowing for autonomy within the sports structure, as this is the usual process followed. This would result in each team being selected at different times and at different venues without transparency, often resulting in confusion and unrest. By running the selection process within a programme of events however, ensures the complete transparency of the event (project) with a clear route for any discrepancies that may be identified, for example in an infrastructure project whereby there is a delay due to another project, the programme management process will manage this delay and will be aware of the slippage that is identified. The programme team then works with project manager to create steps to mitigate the damage, i.e. he may move additional labour from one project that is currently attempting to smooth their resource due to a staggered resource requirement, Gardiner. P (2005 P.255); “resource smoothing involves rescheduling the non-critical activities within their float envelopes; it does not affect the expected project duration” to another to expedite the project that has suffered the delay due to the other project in the programme. In the same respect, in the case of the sports event the programme would coordinate the efforts of the selection committee to reduce the time required by allowing the maximum amount of top players in the region to be in the same place at the same time. The method that was used in this instance was to arrange a mini tournament with all of the players in the age group to be in attendance at the same time. It can be argued that the association could also have done the same thing, however the programme had the ability to influence the league level scheduling, which the association had no control over.


The programme identified and secured suitable training venues as it had the means of organising and securing these venues. It can be argued that the individual team mangers could have done this, which they have done in the past, however in the past these mangers have only been interested in their own teams and any teams with a weaker team manager (project manager); who were unable to negotiate a suitable training venue would have suffered. In the same respect when an infrastructure project starts to lag behind, the programme management function has the ability to use members from a stronger project to assist or even take over if required. In the case study the programme secured a single venue for all teams to train at the same time, allowing for the additional benefit of building a strong overall regional team bonding. This had further strategic benefits of allowing for all of the teams to get to know each other and look out for each other while away on tournament. 


Stage 4 (Delivery)

It can be contended that the initial general meeting should be arranged and run by the committee or project team, as the programme management agenda may be too business focussed and not project or sports focused as in the case study, however this can be said for most projects and the initial project team meetings are rarely attended by members of the programme management team. Any primary issues that cannot be closed out by the project team could always be escalated to the programme team at a later time if required.


Within the delivery stage of the tournament there are many interrelated issues that are best suited to be managed at a central level. There are several ways that this could be managed one of which is that the programme could take these tasks on within the programme team, however this would then suggest that the programme manger is nothing more than a project manager with a central inter-related project, for example the programme team could deal directly with the team kit designers and manufacturers, ensuring that all of the players were measured and had placed the correct orders for clothing required. Another team member could arrange travel and accommodation, collect funds from individual players and ensure that all of the special requirements were met and that they all returned to their individual homes safely. Another way to manage these inter-related issues would be to create another project team to deal with these issues in this way all projects, including the central project would report into the programme manger. This would result in any issues that are raised being dealt with at a programme level, as the latter method would mean that there was no escalation process, as the programme team would be responsible for the issue. Field. (1998 p.5); “Sometimes the work needed to achieve a major organisational objective will be far greater than can easily be organised and carried out in a single project. This may mean the organisation will undertake a programme that consists of a number of interrelated projects.   


Stage 5 (Project Close out)

Projects are very rarely closed just because the ‘work in the ground’ is complete; in fact many projects remain at the 99% complete stage for 20% of the project duration. This is usually due to the fact that as soon as the work is complete, the project team starts to disband and there is nobody left to close out the project, Turner. J (2009 p.132); “during closeout, the size of the team reduces, to the point where there is just one task force working on the whole asset” suggesting that this would be where a programme management function would be very valuable. In the case study there were still outstanding funds, unpaid invoices, lost and found items that had been collected on the tournament, engraving of trophies, preparation of victory parties, etc. Most of these items the team mangers had very little interest in following up, as they had ‘done their bit’ and this would have remained open for months after the tournament was over. The programme management process is able to consolidate this work and ensure that the relevant managers complete the work. In the case of an infrastructure project, if the team were to commence disbanding then prior to project close out, the programme would be in a position to halt the process or move (loan) resource from another inter related project that had surplus resource to assist in the close out process. This too can be disputed as by having different people closing out a project than that was running the project, this would be extremely inefficient, however this isn’t suggested as the correct way of closing out a project, only the alternative to leaving project open in the event that one of the project teams disband.


Stage 6 (Lessons Learned)

In the case study the lessons learned by the players, coaches and managers might have been communicated by means of a post tournament briefing and followed up with a celebration. Brown. J (2008 P.230); “Many organisations repeat the same project management mistakes over and over. It is human nature to want to forget failure and bury the memory” A winning team is always very eager to come back and share the celebration and attend a briefing to communicate to the world how well they did, however this is not always the case for the losing side. The same can be said for most projects, if the project was a success, the team are lining up to complete a Lessons Learnt and to share with the world how well they did. The project team that failed are usually the team that has either disbanded or attempted to put as much distance between themselves and the project as quickly as possible. It can be debated that this is where programme management would be most valuable, as by driving and ensuring that the lessons learned meetings take place before the team disbands, that any difficulties or mistakes that were made by the project team are not repeated in any of the remaining projects in the programme.  



Similarities exist between a large project and a programme of (interrelated) projects, suggesting that Heathcote’s (2013) theory may be correct, however with closer scrutiny there are many intricacies that the programme management function will be involved with that may be either missed or just simply left out by a project manager, should the projects be run completely independently of each other. This is not to say that every large group of inter-related projects that have been managed independently of a programme would have failed, only that the possibility of increased inefficiencies would have been higher than that where a programme of projects had been adopted. In the case of the ‘case study’, it can be suggested that this should have been delivered as individual projects, in order to limit the risk of losing all teams if the programme had failed, however as it can be seen from diagram 2, this example was selected for this paper as it was a small programme with simple dependencies which could easily be used to draw on comparisons and conclusions.


A Programme of Projects Schedule

Diagram 2 – Programme of Projects showing dependencies


After review of the information collected for this paper, it can assume that Rayner. P et al (2013) is correct in his suggestion that a programme is “a thin layer of management forming a bridge between the Project Management teams and the organisation’s strategic team” however it is evident that this not a full definition, as this would insinuate that a programme management team is superficial and just squeezed in between the senior leaders and the project team.

If both Rayner & Heathcote’s assumptions were combined, to suggest that ‘a programme management team is assembled to manage the additional layer of WBS (Heathcote), which will assist the programme team in forming a bridge between the business strategy and the project team. (Rayner. P’ then this would imply that programme management has a complete different set of objectives than that of project management. It could also be suggested that the APM (2012) may have stopped short in their definition of a programme management, as their definition suggests that programme management is “The coordinated management of projectsand change managementactivities to achieve beneficial change” suggesting that a the programme management function would manage the projects. All of the literature that has been reviewed for this paper however suggests that the programme management function monitors projects within the group of inter related projects and allows the individual project managers to manage their own projects. The programme management purpose would possibly be to steer and advise the individual project managers, but no evidence would suggest that the programme management function is to be managing the individual projects, as the APM suggest in their definition. A more accurate definition would be ‘To coordinate and monitor a group of interrelated projects whilst managing the additional layer of WBS, which forms the bridge between the business’s strategy and the project team’



1.     Turner. J (2009); The Handbook of Project based Management; Leading Strategic Change in Organisations – The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.

2.     Rayner. P & Reiss. G (2013); Portfolio and Programme Management Demystified 2nd Edition – Routledge

3.     Brown. J (2008); The Handbook of Program Management; How to facilitate Project success with Optimal program management – McGraw Hill

4.     Wikipedia (2014) < (11/01/2014)>

5.     Pennypacker. J (2002); The Value of Project management – Centre of business practices, PM Solutions

6.     Carter. P (2014); Managing Successful Projects - < (11/01/2014)>

7.     APM (2014); Body of Knowledge 6th Edition -

8.     APM (2012); Body of Knowledge 6th Edition – ©Association for Project managers 2012

9.     JISC InfoNet (2014); Info Kits – Programme Management (11/01/1014)

10.  Turner. J (2009); The Hand Book of Project Based Management 3rd Edition – McGraw Hill

11.  Gardiner. P (2005); Project Management, a Strategic Planning Approach - Palgrave Macmillan

12.  Field. M & Keller. L (1998) Project management - The open University


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