MSP 2011 Edition – Review

MSP (Managing Successful Programmes) offers a methodical approach to Programme Management. The 2011 edition is an update to the 2007 edition. What is this edition about and what are the major changes?

MSP offers guidance for large change initiative that involves major risk. Because of the size, duration and the many different interests and influences by many stakeholders, strategic changes need strong leadership. MSP offers an approach to the different areas to lead and manage change.

Because of the MSP focus on benefits (to stakeholders) this approach is a customer’s approach to change, so not a supplier’s delivery approach. This base ensures a natural integration with PRINCE2, the customer’s approach to project management with its focus on justification (Business Case) and its key role of the Project Executive.


MSP defines a programme as:

“a temporary, flexible organization created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to the organization’s strategic objectives”.


After a short introduction, the guide describes the three main parts of MSP:

  • The Principles; general guiding principles that apply to all programmes (obviously with in the MSP definition).
  • The Governance themes; subjects that need to be managed and governed in programmes from start to finish
  • The transformational flow; sets of high-level activities that will be executed during the start, the execution and the closure of a programme.
The Principles:
  • Remaining aligned with corporate strategy
    If corporate strategy changes, the programme should change as well. Or should prematurely close. The programme should never evolve to be disconnected to the corporate strategy (as only too often happens in real life).
  • Leading change
    Strategic change needs leadership rather than management. Leadership is all about communicating a vision of a better future and a focus on stakeholders and their (perceived) benefits. As a result, this principle is very closely connected to the next two principles; their distinction is largely artificial.
  • Envisioning and communicating a better future
    Creating, maintaining and communicating a vision of a better future to engage stakeholders.
  • Focusing on the benefits and threats to them
    The driver of a programme. Change can only be successful if accepted and supported by stakeholders. Stakeholders will only support change if they perceive benefits.
  • Adding value
    Why is the programme structure appropriate? Could change not be managed with another structure and possibly less overhead? What is the value of handling this as a programme?
  • Designing and delivering a coherent capability
    What new capability does an organization need to change? How will it be delivered? The capability normally will be delivered by several projects.
  • Learning from experience
    To a certain extent, this is not a MSP Principle. Whatever work is done, in whatever structure, it is always important to learn from experience. There will however always be specific lessons to be learned and used under specific circumstances, especially in often difficult circumstances such as a programme.
The Governance themes
  • Programme organization
    A clear organization, including well defined roles and responsibilities, is critical to any undertaking but probably even more in case of change. MSP proposes a very useful framework.
    Programme organization - Framework
    (Although the guidance does not specifically recommends integration with PRINCE2, in the diagram the PRINCE2 Project Board is used because PRINCE2 is probably the most effective and most obvious approach to run project under the programme)

    The theme also discusses several consideration for implementation and tailoring to the programme’s circumstances.

  • Vision
    For any strategic programme, it is critical to have a compelling picture of a beneficial future. The vision keeps the programme on the right direction and is a very important tool to communicate with stakeholders.
    This theme describes consideration for creating, maintaining and using a vision statement throughout a programme.

  • Leadership and stakeholder engagement
    A discussion about the differences between Leadership and Management. The theme shows the importance of Leadership in a programme and in this context discusses means of communication.

  • Benefits management
    Especially when a change initiative has a long duration, which is common with programmes, it is very important to show results to stakeholders. It is the most important way to keep them interested and convinced to support the programme. This is the reason MSP has a focus on benefits. The theme describes mechanisms to manage benefits.
    FRom projects to benefits
  • Blueprint design and delivery
    A Blueprint describes what capability an organization needs to fulfil the envisioned better future. The capability is described as Processes, Organization, Tools/Technology and Information (POTI).
    A programme will usually be divided in several tranches to enable control, decision-making and explicit Benefits Management (measurements). For each tranche there will be an intermediate Blueprint, obviously the final programme for the final tranche.
    Projects will deliver products to be parts (of each version) of the Blueprint.
  • Planning and control
    Planning a programme will be complex and time-consuming. MSP defines several plans for different purposes and all plans will be integrated in the overall programme plan.
  • The business case
    The MSP focus is on the benefits perceived by stakeholders. But obviously the question should be asked if the undertaking is worthwhile. Will the benefits weigh up against the cost?
  • Risk and issue management
    Because of size, duration and the difficulty of strategic change, there will be a lot of uncertainty and many changes during a programme. This theme discusses way to manage risks and issues.
  • Quality and assurance management
    This theme is about the quality of the programme itself; from its leadership to the different res of management. Assurance should give the programme confidence about this quality or should alert when the quality is not sufficient.
The transformational flow
  • High-level processes describing what should done during the start of a programme:
    • Identifying a Programme
      Finding out of it is worth to start a programme, including getting together the Sponsoring Group and creating a draft vision statement and the basic programme organization.
    • Defining a Programme
      Setting up the programme, including planning, finishing the (initial) vision statement and Blueprint.
  • High-level processes describing what should done during the execution of a programme:
    • Managing the Tranches
      Mainly (preparing the) decision-making to from tranche to tranche, including evaluation and benefits management.
    • Delivering the Capability
      Describing the process specifically for the Programme Manager to create the contents of the Blueprint. Starting, monitoring and closing projects.
    • Realizing the Benefits
      Describing the process specifically for the Business Change Managers. After receiving (parts of) the Blueprint, transition should happen, meaning that the Blueprint should be used by the organization to realize benefits.
  • High-level processes describing what should done during the (premature) closure of a programme:
    • Closing a Programme
      Speaks for itself.

What is new in this edition?

The MSP 2011 edition does not contain major changes. For me, being a MSP trainer, qualified as MSP Advanced Practitioner and experienced user there were no surprises. MSP was always a well design approach. So structural changes were not expected.

Minor issues in the previous version were changed or clarified. The 2011 is not a major new version is still has the same good quality the previous version had.


 There is however one issue I have to mention: the new, changed definition of the Programme Board.

In the previous version the Programme Board was defined as an optional group within the Sponsoring Group. The Programme Board could be useful to support the potentially overloaded SRO (Senior Responsible Owner), primarily to engage with stakeholders.

Programme Board Pre-2011

The Programme Board proposed by the previous edition, made sense. It was a workable and practical concept.

But in the 2011 edition, the Programme Board was changed to a mishmash of SRO, Programme Manager, BCM’s and even the projects’ Executives. It is now a concept without any reason or function. It is unclear what the justification for this new Programme Board is; the 2011 edition fails to make clear how this Board would act or what the benefits of this concept could be.

More information

Want to know more about MSP details and how to use the approach? Then please visit these pages.

About the author

Specialist in effective change.

Accredited MSP™ and PRINCE2® trainer.

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