Programmes are more than the sum of their projects

Photo by Leo Reynolds A recent Computer Weekly article trailed an allegedly critical report into DWP’s handling of IT strategy, including Universal Credit, and threw in this:

“Sources said the audit is likely to show the scale of the challenges faced by [the CIO, CTO and director general of digital transformation] in putting the necessary strategy and governance in place to ensure a coherent approach to IT at DWP, rather than approaching every requirement as a standalone IT project, as has often been the case in the past.”

This highlights an important feature of large scale programmes that is often lost by people working more within projects: programmes are not just collections of projects. A programme will tend to have a broad strategic goal, and while that can be decomposed into projects, if the context of the overall goal shifts then the projects may need to shift significantly.

Previously I talked about the need to focus on outcomes rather than tasks within a Scrum team. One reason for this is that a shift in context for the product owner can mean a significant shift in the approach of the team.

Similarly, a shift in context for a programme can mean significant shifts in how component projects are approached, or even whether they are necessary. If a government project suddenly loses support from an opposition party close to an election then project priorities may need to be shifted to ensure pre-election deliverables are more relevant to any post-election scenario. If there is a shift in view of security then there may be deep consequences for early infrastructure projects which lay the foundations of later projects. It’s easy to imagine other examples. However, if all such projects are embedded into the wider context, and are managed as elements of a wider programme, then they’re less likely to get caught out by changes there and the knock-on effects will be reduced.

Photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr