Organizational Project Management
Community of Practice


Featured SME: Torbjørn Netland

Introduction: The OPM CoP will feature thought leaders. This series kicks off with Torbjørn Netland, a researcher at SINTEF Technology and Society and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway who recently contributed to the Journal of Project, Program and Portfolio Management edited by the OPM CoP Council Lead, Dr. Nigel Williams.

Using Program Management Theory to manage global process improvement programs

Multinational companies are implementing an increasing number of improvement programs; they spend more money, more often, and on bigger programs. A shared aim of all the programs is change in one form or another. A specific type of program that has received a lot of attention and spending among multinational manufacturing companies in the past decade is the company-specific production system (XPS). XPSs are multi-plant improvement programs that are coordinated from the corporate headquarters and implemented in all subsidiaries of the firm. A few examples are Alcoa Business System, Boeing Production System, Bosch Production System, Jotun Operations System, Siemens Production System, and Volkswagen Production System. However, research and practice show that the implementation of process improvement programs is a challenging task that often ends up unsuccessful despite good intentions and substantial resource investments. In my paper "Managing strategic improvement programs: the XPS program management framework", newly published in the Journal of Project, Program and Portfolio Management (Vol. 3, No. 1), I investigated how Program Management Theory can help provide deployment guidelines for successful XPS implementation in global firms. Here follows an excerpt.

Program management theory
Program management is a popular approach for bringing about change in corporations. One of the most acknowledged guides for program management is the book Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) published by The UK Office of Government Commerce. The MSP framework (OGC 2011) is a holistic, structured and detailed account of how to manage programs from the start to the end as shown below:

Figure: The Managing Successful Programs framework (OGC, 2011 p. 6)

This framework is clearly useful for many types of mega-projects, but it does not fit the management of an XPS perfect. There is another theoretical perspective in the Program Management Theory that criticizes this type of frameworks from the project-based program management literature. The strategic perspective on program management argues that the one-size-fits-all recipe for program management that has been advocated by the project-based perspective is erroneous for more strategic programs. The MSP framework is based on the classic project management principles of role hierarchy, linear life-cycles, defined activities, structure and control. Strategic programs differ from project-based programs in that they are: (1) proceeding, (2) emergent, (3) dynamic and (4) people-oriented. Other program frameworks are needed for programs like XPSs that are characterized by being:

  • Proceeding: An XPS is intended as a never-ending strategic program of continuous improvement.
  • Emergent: The end goal of XPS is a 'moving target' as it is all about continuous improvement.
  • Dynamic: An XPS program must simultaneously deliver the same change capability in subsidiaries that naturally are at very different maturity stages.
  • People-oriented: The real product of an XPS program is a capacity for change rather than a physical technology.

The XPS program management framework
For all these reasons there is a need to develop more flexible, yet helpful, framework for the program management of an XPS. While the project-based perspective of Program Management Theory is rightly criticized for being too rigid and uniform to fit a strategic program such as the XPS. The strategic perspective, on the other hand, is too vague and leaves XPS practitioners with little help other than advice to focus on competence building and to allow for different approaches. By adapting the well-developed program management frameworks from the project perspective to the peculiarities of the XPS as a strategic program, I propose the following framework:

Figure: The XPS program management framework (Netland, 2012 p. 41)

The XPS program management framework is based on the process perspective that allows managers to focus attention on different phases of the program. The XPS for each phase is determined by its three elements: content, structure and process. A first project phase is needed to establish the program. Thereafter, by performing XPS program management, subsidiaries should be able to move through three phases: re-engineering continuous improvement, and finally process innovation. In the paper it is suggested that each phase requires a specific focus in the subsidiary, but also that the focus of each phase must be sustained beyond that phase. The paper is freely available for download at the Journal of Project, Program and Portfolio Management.

Recommended literature

  • Milosevic, D. Z., Martinelli, R. & Waddell, J. M. (2007) Program Management for Improved Business Results, John Wiley & Sons.
  • Netland, T. H. (2012) Exploring the phenomenon of company-specific Production Systems: One-best-way or own-best-way? International Journal of Production Research, DOI:10.1080/00207543.2012.676686.
  • OGC (2011) Managing Successful Programmes, Norwich, United Kingdom, The Stationary Office, Office of Government Commerce
  • Pellegrinelli, S. (1997) Programme management: organising project-based change. International Journal of Project Management, 15, 141-149.
  • Pellegrinelli, S. (2008) Thinking and acting as a real programme manager, New York, Palgrave Macmillian.
  • Reiss, G. (1996) Programme management demystified: managing multiple projects successfully, London, Spon Press.
  • Thiry, M. (2002) Combining value and project management into an effective programme management model. International Journal of Project Management, 20, 221-227.
  • Williams, D. & Parr, T. (2004) Enterprise programme management: delivering value, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan.
About the author
Torbjørn Netland is a researcher at SINTEF Technology and Society and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. In 2011-2012 he has been a Fulbright Visiting Research Fellow at McDonough School of Business. He blogs at www.better-operations.com, tweets as @tnetland, and can be contacted at torbjorn.netland@iot.ntnu.no.

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