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Axelos Global Best Practice

Date Originally Published

15 October 2021

Originally Appeared In

Axelos Resource Hub


Assurance, AXELOS, Best Practice, MSP, Program Management,

Why are the themes in the Axelos Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) valuable for programme management?

For simplicity’s sake, in MSP v5 edition, whilst the principles are akin to rules that should be followed and the processes define a programme’s lifecycle, the seven themes outline topics – key areas for consideration when managing programmes – and a number of practical examples for implementation.

For example, the justification theme covers the entire journey from the initial programme mandate to the complete business case; in other words, addressing the overall purpose of the programme and the desired benefits and value for stakeholders.

The structure of the themes provides the “bread and butter” for a programme manager and these topic areas recur throughout a programme, regardless of what it’s trying to achieve or the industry you are in.


Assurance and decisions themes – a close relationship

While all of the themes in MSP 5th edition are interlinked, the assurance and decisions themes have a close relationship.

The concept of assurance is important to MSP as a whole and it’s really about the programme manager having confidence that what they are doing is right. And being confident is a crucial component when making decisions in a programme because it reverberates through everything: the sponsoring group becomes confident that the objectives will be achieved; investors recognize that outcomes of benefit will be fulfilled and, even at a project level, team members operate under the knowledge that their work in delivering the outputs is important.

For a real-world example that demonstrates how making decisions requires assurance from a multitude of perspectives, there is no better current example than the UK’s multi-billion pound transport initiative HS2.


Assurance and the three lines of defence

In MSP 5th edition, assurance links for the first time to the “three lines of defence” concept, which includes controls at project, programme manager and programme board/sponsoring group levels.

The purpose of this is summed up by thinking of organizational change as the “Wild West”: projects without the governance and controls of programme management can have a self-focused interest, doing what’s right for them but not serving the programme.

So, the first line of defence – focused on individual projects – is about using assurance to make sure projects are running effectively. The second line is where a programme manager takes a “helicopter view” of the whole horizon to ensure each project contributes to the programme or supports another project. The third line is where the programme board or senior leadership team considers the more strategic, long-term goals for the organization to ensure the programme is in line with them.

Having assurance is a given in any programme scenario but needs to be tailored accordingly. For example, an innovation and growth programme, while more speculative, still needs solid checks and balances on the investment made. If the programme is about improving delivery efficiency (such as technology solutions for remote working), assurance is supporting a more long-term strategy for working arrangements.


Decisions – learning from the past

The decisions theme in MSP values what’s been done before and what lessons can inform the future. This is about collectively bringing everyone together with the full facts to make a coherent and rounded decision.

With decision making, more often than not, it’s not possible to please everybody. And with major programmes, decisions are daunting because the implications are enormous. However, if the choice the programme manager makes is in the interests of the programme and organization, then it’s the right decision.

But this is where you need an audit trail with data which demonstrates why particular decisions were made. Ultimately, in programme management, you need to be held accountable for the investments you sanction and the projects you choose to progress or not.

The oversight that MSP’s assurance theme provides and the learnings and awareness of risk that feed into the decisions theme are there to ensure good programme governance.


Learn more about adopting Global Best Practice for Programme Management and Assurance.