MSP Foundation – Overview, Principles and Governance Themes

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I’m creating blog posts based on my revision of the Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) Foundation exam. I hope that collectively these posts may prove useful to anyone preparing for the MSP® Foundation exam.

Before proceeding, just a quick reminder that all page references are from the MSP® manual, so if you haven’t bought it yet then I strongly advise you do so. You can order it directly from Amazon below.

For further information on the MSP® certifications, please download the MSP® syllabus, or visit

Overview, principles and governance themes overview

For the foundation exam you have to know facts, terms and concepts, specifically recall the:

=> Definitions of:

  1. Programme (page 5): 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. A programme is likely to have a life that spans several years. Programmes deals with outcomes. Programmes provides an umbrella under which these projects can be coordinated.
  2. Project (page 5): temporary organization, usually existing for a much shorter duration, which will deliver one or more outputs in accordance with an agreed business case.
  3. Programme management (page 6): action of carrying out the coordinated organization, direction and implementation of a dossier of projects and transformation activities to achieve outcomes and realize benefits of strategic importance to the business.

=> Three core concepts of MSP – principles, governance themes and transformational flow (pages 5, 6):

MSP framework and concepts

(image source)

=> Three critical organizational elements aligned by programme management (page 6):

  1. Corporate strategy
  2. Delivery mechanisms for change
  3. Business-as-usual environment

 => Three types of programme (pages 8, 9):

  1. Vision-led
  2. Emergent
  3. Compliance

=> Seven principles that improve the probability of a programme achieving its objectives (page 17):

Principles are common factors that underpin the success of any programme of transformational change.

  1. Remaining aligned with corporate strategy (page 17):
    • should make significant contribution towards achieving corporate performance targets.
    • Maintains good links with a sometimes-volatile corporate strategy.
    • Prove or disprove strategic ideas.
    • Must be durable yet adaptable enough to keep pace with strategy.
    • Ensure strategic drivers are extended downwards into the governance of its projects and business change activities.
    • Must not allow projects to become detached from, or misaligned with, corporate strategy.
    • Needs to create a working environment that is both robust and flexible enough to cope with frequent, and sometimes radical, changes of boundary.
    • BC must be robust, and reviewed regularly to ensure ongoing strategic alignment
    • It is necessarily agile and adaptive.
  2. Leading change (page 18):
    • Gives clear direction
    • Engenders trust with consistent and transparent behaviours
    • Actively engages stakeholders
    • Appoints the right people at the right time
    • Can live with a measure of uncertainty
    • Solves problems and creates novel solutions
    • Supports the transition until new methods are established and embedded
  3. Envisioning and communicating a better future (page 20):
    • Describe a clear vision of the future
    • A vision should be developed and refined in the early part of the programme
  4. Focusing on the benefits and threats to them (page 20):
    • Aligns everything towards satisfying strategic objectives by realizing the end benefits
    • Programme’s boundary is determined to enable the realization of these benefits
    • The ultimate success of a programme is judged by its ability to realize these benefits and the continuing relevance of these benefits to the strategic context
    • If benefits are of strategic value, then effective risk management is crucial
    • Put benefits management at the top of the programme board agenda to ensure that it maintains focus
  5. Adding value (page 21):
    • A programme only remains valid if it adds value to the sum of its constituents projects and major activities
  6. Designing and delivering coherent capability (page 21):
    • The capability that the programme will deliver is defined in the blueprint
    • The programme will deliver a coherent organizational capability that is released into operational use according to a schedule that delivers maximum incremental improvements with minimal adverse operational impact
    • Project scope and outputs need careful delineation
    • Rigorous identification and management of inter-project dependencies
    • Clear understanding of programme vs project responsibilities
    • Focus on the bigger picture and shouldn’t take over the responsibilities of project management
    • Regular reviews held to verify continual alignment to the programme blueprint and plans
    • Deliver a blueprint that meets the needs of the organization
  7. Learning from experience (page 22):
    • Reflects upon and improves its performance during its life
    • Programmes perform better where members of the management all assume the attitude of being learners
    • An organization’s ability to learn from experience often reflects its programme management maturity

=> Nine governance themes (page 27):

Allows organizations to put in place the right leadership, delivery team, robust organization structures, controls and control information

  1. Programme organization
  2. Vision
  3. Leadership and stakeholder engagement
  4. Benefits management
  5. Blueprint design and delivery
  6. Planning and control
  7. The business case
  8. Risk and issue management
  9. Quality and assurance management

 => Characteristics of programmes (page 255):

  • focus will be on direction and delivery of strategy
  • vision and blueprint focus will be within the programme boundary
  • timescales will be loosely defined, but there will be an end point at which the programme will be focused
  • risk focus will be on aggregation of project risk and operational transition, with escalation routes for strategic and operational risks
  • issue orientation will be towards resolving inter-project escalations and benefits delivery
  • planning will be oriented to delivering outcomes through tranches and managing project inter-dependencies
  • benefit delivery will dominate, with significant focus on the rigour of benefit profiling and realization
  • governance will be applied through programme strategies and application of organizational or portfolio standards where they exist
  • stakeholder engagement will be focused at all levels in the organization and key external influencers
  • quality focus will be on management processes
  • business case will be focused on benefits realization balanced against the project and programme costs
  • programmes deliver transformational changed rather than incremental changes

=> Elements of a programme management environment and how they relate to each other (pages 7, 8):

programme management environments

(image source: MSP® manual – page 8)

=> The triggers for:

  1. Vision-led (page 8): has come into existence to deliver a clearly defined vision that has been created and is sponsored by the top of the organization. Tends to be top down in approach, with cross-functional implications for the organizations. Entrepreneurial programmes developing new products and services, that focus on innovation or strategic opportunity offered by the business environment. In the public sector, this could be the translation of political priorities into a programme which will refine and deliver the desired changes.
  2. Emergent (page 9): evolves from concurrent, individual projects that have grown within an organization. There is now recognition that coordination of the projects is necessary to deliver the changes and the desired benefits. Is transitory, as it becomes a planned programme when its vision, context and direction have been defined and established.
  3. Compliance (page 9): ‘must do’ programme. The organization has no choice but to change as a result of an external event, such as legislative change. Benefits may be expressed in terms of compliance, achievement and avoidance of negative implications rather than measurable improvements in performance.

drivers for change

(image source: MSP® manual – page 8)

=> Governance areas of focus of (page 31):

  1. Senior Responsible Owner (SRO):
    • Design, approval and compliance of the programme with:
      • corporate controls,
      • governance strategies
      • initiations of assurance reviews
  2. Programme manager:
    • design and implementation of the programme governance strategies
    • consultation with corporate governance bodies to ensure alignment
    • initiation of stakeholder consultation
    • supporting the SRO in implementation and control
  3. Business Change Manager (BCM):
    • review and contribution to governance development and control
    • implementation of governance arrangements where they impact on operations
    • monitoring performance information to assure the maintenance of business performance at acceptable levels of stable operation during transition
    • input to programme assurance reviews
    • specific focus on benefits and stakeholder governance
  4. Programme office:
    • Maintenance of records
    • Supporting governance assurance reviews
    • Application of governance arrangements on behalf of the programme manager as appropriate
    • Monitoring actions from assurance and audit reviews
    • Providing expertise to support assurance reviews on other programmes

 => The characteristics of strategies and plans (page 29):

  • Strategies: set out the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the approach that the programme will take to achieve its final outcomes and benefits, including the policies, standards, cycles and responsibilities related to that particular governance theme. Programme strategies are derived from, consistent with, and aligned to the organization’s policies for managing that governance theme.
  • Plans: explain what activities will take place to deliver that element of governance, as well as where, when and by whom.

=> Characteristics of the seven principles that improve the probability of a programme achieving its objectives (page 17):

  • Universal in that they apply to every programme
  • Self-validating in that they have been proven in practice
  • Empowering because they give practitioners of this framework some added ability or power to influence and shape transformational change toward success

=> Different impacts that may be the result of a programme (page 9):

programme impact matrix

(image source: MSP® manual – page 9)

Managing Successful Programmes – Foundation content guide (hyperlinks will be added as posts become available):

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