At the end of last year I was heavily involved in developing the Association for Project Management’s new Body of Knowledge. This is the first version of the BoK that explicitly addresses projects, programmes and portfolios.

During the review process I was taken aback by the level to which people see projects and programmes as being entirely different things serving different purposes. The chapter on Benefits Management in particular was a bone of contention. I maintained that there is nothing wrong with a ‘project’ delivering benefits but the reaction in some quarters was “No, projects cannot deliver benefits, only programmes do that”.

 

The source of this conviction was, I’m afraid to say, our very own PRINCE2® and MSP®. Sure enough, if you take them literally, a PRINCE2 project does not deliver benefits and programmes in MSP have the delivery of benefits as a defining characteristic.

But let’s be practical about this. Work that develops an output and derives a single benefit from that output doesn’t need to be constituted as a fully-fledged programme. In reality, there are projects, there are programmes and an awful lot of work that combines characteristics of both.

Both PRINCE2 and MSP put great emphasis on “tailoring the method”. Tailoring can be extensive and I would say that when confronted with a piece of work you need to take guiding principles from both PRINCE2 and MSP, not treat them as some sort of mutually exclusive methods for distinctly different situations.

I have managed pieces of work that, by most company’s standards, are pretty small but greatly benefited from having a Vision and a Blueprint. They were managed as projects but with documentation designed for programmes.

The world is not just made up of objects coloured blue, red or yellow (or cyan, magenta and yellow if you prefer). It is made up of a myriad of colours derived from the three primaries in different proportions.

So don’t look at PRINCE2, MSP and MoP and see them as different methods for different circumstances. Think of them as three primary methods from which you can develop an approach that suits the piece of work you are trying to manage.

Learn to paint, not just colour by numbers.