Who ‘owns’ the programme? – the planner or the project manager?
Ian Hodgson (23rd May 2005)
How many times, when a project comes to an end, do we hear project managers claim all the
credit when the job has gone well, and if the job was not successful then the planners get the
blame for the programme being wrong? How much of the reason for this sort of statement is due
to differences of perception regarding ownerships and responsibilities?
This paper considers the question of ‘who owns the programme for a project?’, or maybe more
specifically, ‘who should own the programme?’ It aims to offer some guidance on how
responsibility for programme are typically apportioned.
It is based on my experiences of planning and programming in the UK construction industry,
whilst working for contractors, consultants and clients. For the purpose of the paper, I have
adopted a definition of ‘own’ as ‘responsibility for’ rather than ‘possession’.
Whilst the title identifies the planner and project manager as key parties, the paper also considers
other parties who are associated with the programme such as the project sponsor, client or
champion and the ‘users’ (the people performing the tasks and activities) of the programmes. I
will also consider how these groups and individuals contribute to the goal, product, process and
content as components of the programme.
I have experienced a number of different situations when it comes to establishing programmes
and these are summarised in diagram 1. I have spilt them into the good or ‘preferred’ and the not
so good or ‘best avoided’ I have come across all of these at one time or another and I am sure
everyone will recognise at least some of them. These are not necessarily typical of these groups
in all cases, but are examples of some of the situations that exist. The roles and responsibilities of
these individuals are considered in the next section of the paper.
‘Best avoided’ ‘Preferred’
Planner Sits in his office producing programmes which Works as part of the project team,
he issues regularly for the team to work to. encouraging contribution and buy-in to the
These are progressed at the end of each programme from the project delivery or
period and a set of reports distributed. No implementation team as well as from users
dialogue with the rest of the project team and sponsors. Highlights variances of actual
occurs. progress from the plan and investigates
options to recover any divergence.
Project manager The (original contract) programme is pinned Uses the programme as a working tool to
on his office wall for all to see. He is off assist the ‘orchestration’ of the project
attending meetings and doing the project in his delivery. Regularly reviews status with the
own way and to his own set of timings. team and agrees corrective actions necessary
to deliver the project.
Sponsor Sets a series of deadlines for the project, Is prepared to listen when proposals are
which in some cases are totally un-realistic provided that indicate completion at variance
targets. The planner and project manager are with his expectations. Works with the team to
required to ‘fit’ the programme to these explore and agree alternatives.
Users Are never be able to complete the task in the Play an active part in setting the programme
period stated, have never done it like that by contributing to setting realistic periods,
before, and generally ignore all requirements sequences and methods. Consider the
for activity completion. programme as contributing to their efforts.
Diagram 1, Common arrangements for programming
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Roles and responsibilities
The planner rather than anyone else in the project team is known as the person who looks after
the programme and is generally regarded as the person responsible for the programme. But in
how many instances is this actually the case and to what extent should he be responsible? Whilst
the planner typically has the expertise to prepare the programme, is he actually fully responsible
for it as he is never the person actually delivering the project?
In the main, I have found that it is the planner who controls the preparation of the programme by
facilitating and assisting a process of programme production. The planner brings his experience
to bear on such tasks as structuring the programme, advising on appropriate timescales and the
production of a plan that can be communicated to the team and the client. All of these are things
that should not be undertaken in isolation by the planner, and it is essential that the planner is at
the centre of the process of ensuring contributions from the whole of the team. He needs to
encourage and facilitate contribution from a wide range of parties. I see this more of as a role of
programme ‘engineer’ or ‘designer’ and it is the process of programme design that he is primarily
taking responsibility for.
I have not yet come across any planner who has the breadth of understanding and specialist
knowledge to be able to prepare a programme totally in isolation of any other member of the
project team. The programme would need to contain a number of assumptions if no consideration
is given to the specific requirements of the delivery team. The project manager would also find it
extremely difficult to implement such a programme. Therefore, consultation with the team is an
essential part of the process of programming.
Therefore, I would suggest that it is not the planner that ‘owns’ the programme outright, but rather
that he ‘owns’ the process of programming. This is not to say that there is no responsibility for the
programme product or output involved, but rather that he has responsibility for the process and
the content, accuracy, presentation and appropriateness of the programme. Overall the planner is
responsible for the process of preparing the programme (programming) and in addition, he will
also have some degree of responsibility for the programme as an output or as a product.
The project manager is generally regarded as the person responsible for the delivery of the
project, but does this make them the person who is therefore responsible for the programme?
The programme is one of the tools that the project manager uses to ‘direct’ the process of project
delivery. Other key tools being the cost plan or budget and the design brief. So is it the project
manager who ‘owns’ the programme?
It is probably fair to assume, that even on the most straightforward of projects, without a realistic
programme, the project manager will find it extremely difficult to deliver the project successfully.
So in part it is one of the project manager’s main responsibilities to ensure that he has a ‘proper’
programme in place. This is essentially the product of the process of programming. There are
quite a number of managers around that, through training or experience, are capable of preparing
their own programmes and in these instances they are fulfilling the role of planner. However, on
projects where a planner is appointed, what is the role of the project manager in programming
and what is he responsible for?
As the project manager holds the ultimate responsibility for the delivery of the project, he should
play a major part in the production of the programme; he must ensure that the programme meets
all the demands of the project, clearly identifying key stages, elements and milestones. On the
one hand he must ensure it meets the objectives of the project sponsor (client) in terms of
delivering ‘business benefit’ and on the other, he must ensure that the team he has assembled to
deliver the project are able to perform to the requirements of the programme. In order to achieve
this he is assisted by the planner. He relies on the expertise and experience of the planner to
prepare a programme that meets the needs of the project.
Therefore the project manager has overall responsibility for the programme as a product,
although he will also have a ‘line-manager’ responsibility with the planner for the process. He also
has a role to play in determining content and also ensuring the clients goals are represented in
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The project sponsor (champion or client) is the recipient of the completed project, so what role
should they play in the process of programming and do they own the programme?
At the outset of the project, the sponsor should make clear his objectives in terms of programme
and delivery. The project manager and planner prepare the programme to reflect these
requirements and constraints. This is should then be presented to the sponsor who signs off that
the programme is compliant. This part of the process is unlikely to be quite that straightforward
and normally will take a number of iterations before the final ‘project’ programme is agreed. So
what can we say are the responsibilities of the sponsor?
The project sponsor is responsible for providing clear goals and objectives against which the
programme can be prepared. This should be available at the start of the project, alongside the
design brief and the budget cost. Throughout the life of the project, these objectives can be used
as a basis for checking progress and achievement. Typically, the milestone/deliverables schedule
is the key document which summarises the programme in a form that can be used by the sponsor
and it is essential that this therefore reflects his objectives.
Overall the sponsor needs to ensure he communicates the key objectives and deliverables for the
project against which the programme is established. In summary, we can say that the project
sponsor owns the goals of the programme.
The programme users are those people who physically perform the tasks and activities shown on
the programme. They may be designers, reviewers, clients, contractors, sub-contractors,
suppliers or any number of other/external agencies. What they have in common though is that it is
they that have to achieve and complete the tasks set for them, in the required order or sequence
and to the dates shown. Do they then ‘own’ the programme?
In essence, the users own or rather are responsible for the content of the programme. They
provide the detail that fills the framework set out by the planner. Usually, the development of this
content and detail is led by the planner and supported by the project manager. This is to ensure
that the individual tasks and activities are such that they can be effectively used to monitor
progress and control the delivery of the project. Again, it is the process of contribution by the
users that is being led by the planner. The project manager is ensuring that the product satisfies
the requirements of the project and the project goals.
In conclusion then, we can see that it is a combination of the planer and the project manager who
‘own’ a significant part of the programme. They are jointly responsible for the programme, both
the process and the product and also contribute to the establishment of the goals and the content.
It is the planner who has primary responsibility for the process and a secondary responsibility for
the product. For the project manager it is the other way around, he has primary responsibility for
the product and a secondary responsibility for the process.
The users are responsible for contributing the content of the programme under the leadership of
the planner. The project sponsor contributes to the process and the product by providing clear
goals and objectives against which the programme is structured
Diagram 2 below summarises these key responsibilities by assigning a Lead role (primary
responsibility), a support role (secondary responsibility) and a contribution role (tertiary level of
Dissertation Paper - Ian Hodgson.doc
Project Sponsor Project Planner Users
Goals C L S -
Product - L L/S C
Process - S L C
Content - C L S
Key L = Lead S = Support C = Contribute
(Primary) (Secondary) (Tertiary)
Diagram 2 Summary of responsibilities
In summary, I would suggest that typically, the responsibility for the programme can be
apportioned between the key parties as outlined below:
The project sponsor is responsible for (owns) the goals against which the programme responds.
The planner is responsible for (owns) the process of programming, with key contribution to the
quality and effectiveness of the programme as a product, and facilitates the development of the
content by the users.
The project manager is responsible for (owns) the programme as a product, ensuring that it
meets the goals set by the sponsor and provides a tool that is capable of monitoring and control.
The users are responsible for (own) the content by contributing the detail tasks and activities that
fill the programme structure.
To return to the example contained in the opening paragraph therefore, it should be the project
manager, planner and the rest of the team who take the credit for a successful project – the
programme being only one part of the contribution. Equally, they should all jointly take
responsibility for any failure in terms of achievement of the project programme.
To close, I propose that it is the Project manager, the planner and the whole of the team
associated with the project that ‘own’ the programme.
Dissertation Paper - Ian Hodgson.doc