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What is in a name? We need to deliver change, does it really matter what we call it?

September 16, 2018



It really does matter what you call the change vehicle you choose to use to deliver your change. The world of change is filled with jargon and often it gets in the way and creates a fog that increases confusion. This confusion is mixed with people’s egos and assumptions that the more impressive sounding you are the better. Our job is to reign this in and stick to the basics being brave enough to keep it out of the jargon and unaffected by ego. To do this we need to ask some straightforward questions about the change. The challenge is to make the right decision over the vehicle to deliver?


The standard choices are Projects / Programmes or Portfolio and in my experience, there is often debate over which is the most appropriate. On the assumption that you will follow a structured delivery approach, it is critical to decide on the correct change vehicle as it will impact dramatically upon the types of artefact you create to deliver.



Using a project to deliver change is a well-trodden path and can allow you to structure something with a known objective that has a clear end. A Business case will typically focus delivery and structured planning with change management controls will drive the change towards its delivery. The typical artefacts include:


• Business Case.

• Charter.

• RACI Matrix.

• Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

• Risk/Issues Log.

• Project Communications Plan.

• Change Request Management.

• Project Schedule.


Projects can be huge and very complex with massive budgets [large building projects / Space etc.] and they chose a project as the correct vehicle as there is clarity over what they need to do and a clear end / deliverable. They may have many streams of activity and even subprojects, however they can all be clearly identified and can be planned to completion. 


A programme on the other hand is appropriate if there is a lack of clarity over what is going to be delivered. This uncertainty increases the governance burden somewhat and the emergent nature will make managing trickier. The confusion and complexity is part and parcel of the early stages in programmes. There is a common assumption that programmes are aggregates of projects i.e. they are a change vehicle for directing several projects. This is true however it is not the prime purpose of a programme rather a feature of how you organise the complexity of a programme and deliver the different elements as they emerge. 


Choosing a programme increases the burden of artefacts and control mechanisms that you will need to deliver it. This is a note of caution to those who make this decision based on size alone!


Portfolios are a mechanism for coordinating an overarching vehicle for ensuring that all change is aligned with your strategic aims. It is a construct that focuses upon contribution to the vision of the organisation, it is an encapsulation of all change be it project or programme. There may be sub [or hub] portfolio's that encapsulate a function or areas contribution strategically however it must align explicitly with the overarch.

All change that you manage as an organisation must have reason you are doing it or an explicit contribution to the stated strategic objective[s] through delivering their respective benefits. It is irrelevant which vehicle is used to manage the change, the important focus is on delivery of the benefits that will contribute to your organisations strategic objectives.


Choose wisely as the right call is important and not just a fancy name.



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