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Programme Management: Using A Programme Blueprint

programme-management-blueprintYou have to get through about 80 pages of the Managing Successful Programmes™ book before you reach the section on Blueprint design and delivery.

It’s worth it. For me, Blueprinting is the best thing about the MSP approach and definitely investing time in, even if you don’t follow any of the rest of the guidance in the book.

In this article, I’ll explain what a Blueprint is and why I think it will add value to your programme, regardless of what approach you are using to manage day-to-day.

What is a Programme Blueprint?

Your programme probably has a vision statement of sorts. That’s normally a short paragraph on what the programme is going to achieve. The Blueprint takes this a step further by describing the capabilities that the programme will deliver.

It’s a document that explains what the organisation looks like today and what it will look like in the future. This ‘future state’ company will be capable of achieving the desired outcomes and getting the benefits that the programme is going to deliver.

What you’re basically trying to do is write down what you want it to look like when you have achieved the vision.

What Blueprints Are Used For

Blueprints set out the difference between the current state of the business and where the business wants to go. They are a great place to start a gap analysis. In fact, some of the gap analysis work might be included in the Blueprint documentation.

As the Blueprint explains the difference between where you are now and where you want to be it is the perfect vehicle for working out what projects need to happen. If you can see the gaps, you can establish how to plug them with the new capability that the company needs.

In MSP terms, this process is called planning the Blueprint delivery. You work through the different elements of capability that are required to get to the end state (either in one jump or through a number of smaller jumps) and work out the best projects to help you achieve that.

Finally, Blueprints have a role to play in working out whether existing projects are worth sticking with. When you’ve created a solid, approved Blueprint, you know that is where the company wants to go. You can then validate inflight projects against that. Do they fit? Are the delivering useful stuff that supports the overall objectives and desired future state? If not, what are you going to do with those projects? The Blueprint is a good tool for the PMO or senior management team to use to start questioning (and closing) projects and programmes that are burning resource without helping the company move closer to its end game.

How a Blueprint Adds Structure To Your Programme

At programme level, blueprints are valuable as they give you a landing point. They are your detailed explanation of what success looks like. Everything that your programme does, and everything that the subsidiary projects do, should be geared up towards achieving that end state. That helps you stay focused and structured.

Another way that Blueprints add structure to your programme is through setting out intermediate steps. Your programme might be one of several that are going to deliver overall business transformation. The Blueprint helps you see where your programme fits in the bigger picture as it will set out the intermediate steps that the business needs to take to get from where it is today to the desired future state.

How To Write a Blueprint

I think you’ve probably realised by now that the Blueprint is not a document that you sit down and write independently. If it describes organisational transformation, you’re going to need to invest some proper time in getting it put together accurately. As a programme manager, it’s your job to do that and you’ll need to draw on a team to help you. Try to find people who not only know the business well but who can also imagine what the future might look like. Involve a mix of subject matter experts and, for big programmes where producing the Blueprint feels a bit scary, don’t hesitate to ask for an external consultant or facilitator to help. The programme is going to represent a fair investment for the company, so it will hugely pay off to have it set up correctly.

The MSP book doesn’t give a template for a Blueprint, but it does give some ideas for what should go in it. You’ll want to include a description of the current organisation including:

  • Organisational structure
  • Staffing models and levels
  • Team skills required and training plans
  • Business processes and functional models
  • IT systems, infrastructure and process
  • Physical equipment and buildings
  • Support processes and service management functions.

What this looks like in reality is a set of process maps, org charts, tables, lists and narrative. Use whatever recording technique you consider the best to get the message across.

Then you’ll include a section on the future organisation which will review the above sections and say how they will be different. You might not have all the data at the moment but you can document how you will be getting that data in order to, say, plan staffing levels adequately in the new world.

It’s unlikely, as we saw, that a single programme is going to radically transform the business and deliver the Blueprint all by itself, and if that is the case then you can include intermediate steps along the way. Each intermediate ‘future state’ will end up contributing to the final ‘future state’.

Keeping Your Blueprint Updated

I think you should keep your Blueprint updated but I couldn’t hand-on-heart tell you if that is the official MSP guidance. It seems to me that as a Blueprint is likely to be around for a long time, because it’s a document that sets out a future that might take several years or more to achieve, then it is worth reviewing it every so often. It only takes a change of CEO or another senior manager to change one part of the Blueprint that may have an impact on other areas.

While overall your end state should be pretty robust – in other words, not something that the exec came up with on a whim – we can’t escape the fact that the business world moves fast. You should always be regularly validating that the Blueprint, and the projects within in, still help the organisation achieve its goals.

Blueprints are a way of making sure your programme starts on the right foot, knowing what it is to achieve and how it will support overall business transformation. They are a really valuable way of finding out where you are going and how you will know when you have arrived. Have you used them on your programmes? Let us know in the comments.

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

3 comments

  1. I agree – Blueprints are a really valuable tool for articulating a Programme’s Vision into a series of tranches or ‘chunks’ of change. For me, a blueprint is particularly useful when determining the impact of a change on an organisation. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Blueprints are vital for the success of the programmes. In my most recent programme, we have kept the blueprint document up to date throughout the programme. It was hard work however, it did allow traceability from blueprint to project milestones, which did provide us with a mechanism to measure how much of the blueprint has been delivered.

  3. Great summary of the importance of a blueprint. Thanks! This kind of thought process is also key to crystallising the thinking of the key people involved.

    I completely agree that – in the same way the elements of a programme need to be reviewed to ensure it remains on track to deliver the agreed vision – it makes eminent sense for the same approach to be applied to ensuring the blueprint continues to deliver the vision. Programmes are designed for “outcomes” rather than “outputs” in recognition of the need to adapt the details to deliver the big picture.

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