Series 1: 5 Key Program Management Principles

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The key principles of program management represent current best practice.
Organisations that are skilled at program management are more likely to:

  • Deliver their strategic objectives
  • Gain the needed benefit and achieve the increased performance.
  • Meet targets (time, cost and quality) for programs. An international study shows that only about 30% of projects deliver fully to plan, meaning that there is significant waste.
  • Be trusted with complex, important programs by monitoring agencies.

5 Key Program Management Principles

  1. Remaining aligned to strategy and focusing on the benefits so that the organisation achieves the required future state.
  2. Leading the change and communicating the required future so that those involved can help ensure we get there.
  3. Adding value by ensuring the required result is achieved and benefits gained in a way not possible without the program.
  4. Designing and delivering a coherent capability so that the result and benefit is achieved for the least disruption to service.
  5. Learning from experience so that the program improves it efficiency as it goes and stays relevant to the business operating environment.

The principles explained

Principle 1

Remaining aligned to strategy and focussing on benefits – This involves focussing on the end benefits and any threats there may be to realising them, as well as considering benefits and business trade-offs that may emerge during the program.

Where benefits cannot be defined in detail, the Sponsoring Group (usually the Executive Team) agrees the acceptable level of variation (tolerance) for the benefits and any key review points.


Practical application:

  • The Program Board conducts formal checks for alignment at key decision milestones. Any changes are tested against the Business Case and may lead to a full review
  • The benefits from a program will be regularly reviewed through the life of the program and form part of the reporting to the Sponsoring Group. Once set, benefits cannot be changed without Sponsoring Group approval
  • On-going ownership of program benefits and the plans for their successful delivery will be passed to specific business leaders (Business Change Owner role).

Principle 2

Leading change and communicating the required future – Strong business leadership is required to move to the required future state. This involves actively engaging stakeholders, assembling a team of the right people with the right skills at the right time and continuously managing the program toward its goals.

A clear vision for the program must be developed in the early part of the program and communicated to all stakeholders. As more is defined and planned, this is communicated to stakeholders.


Practical application:

  • Ensuring that the change journey is defined and that key points of communication are scheduled, including updates to the change plan itself
  • Management commitment and active championship of the change
  • Ensuring that all involved (including groups outside of the program) understand their part in delivering it
  • Identifying, and engaging stakeholders in the program so that their needs are addressed and their commitment is gained.

Principle 3

Adding value – programs are a major overhead. If a program is found to add nothing to the projects it coordinates then it is better to close a program and allow the projects to be managed by the organisation’s portfolio as stand-alone.

One confirmation of this principle is the existence of program benefits over and above individual project benefits.

Principle 4

Designing and delivering a coherent capability – a program is structured to deliver the most value for the least business impact. This is achieved by managing what is delivered and timing the delivery so that the business team can absorb the changes and achieve the intended results.

Practical application:

  • Ensuring that the capability delivered includes process, structure, skills, knowledge, behaviour and culture (as outlined in the Program Blueprint)
  • Identifying points where further assessment of need will occur
  • Gaining business agreement to the program and business commitment to receiving and using the results.

Principle 5

Learning from experience – a program can last for some time and the environment it delivers in will change. Programs need to keep examining how well they have delivered their results as they go and learn from what has gone well and what can be improved. Programs also take and share learning external to their environment and organisation.

Practical application:

  • The Program Board will periodically review its performance against its planning documents and implements any changes in the next part of the program
  • It will also review organisation processes associated with program delivery and recommend improvements or alterations where it sees a need
  • It may seek external input into their performance
  • The program will take learning from each tranche review and make sure that those learning are passed on / incorporated into on-going and upcoming tranches.

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