Ending programmes

Just like projects, programmes need to be closed down at some stage, hopefully because all the requisite benefits have been realised as a result of successful implementations by the projects. It could, of course, be because the programme has gone wrong and needs to be refocused. Either way, an orderly close to the programme, with documentation signed off, records archived and lessons learned for the next time are all essential parts of the process.

There are occasions when a programme is not formally closed, but ‘transforms’ itself into a new programme. Again, the proper closing processes could be followed, even if it is only a temporary closure. This would ensure a clear end to the responsibilities of one programme and the start of different ones for the new programme.

When should the programme be closed down?

There is no simple answer to this question. A programme’s primary purpose is to manage the work of the projects within its remit to ensure that the business benefits, perceived as the justification for the expenditure, have been realised. It follows, therefore, that the programme should not close until the benefits have been accrued. But there is a problem with this. There is a significant overhead in running a programme and this is ‘paid for’ by the accrual of the benefits; thus, if the programme is closed earlier rather than later, even more benefits can be achieved.

The programme, though, is the main control and management of the accrual of benefits and so there is something of a quandary. The basic answer is that the programme should be closed when enough of the benefits have been realised to justify the programme’s existence and when the major changes the programme has implemented are regarded as business as usual rather than ‘new’. It will certainly be after the last piece of project work within the programme has finished and delivered its products, but could be immediately after this time, a few months after this or after a longer period.

It would be usual for a programme to close after the last main benefits review has taken place. This should check on the delivery of the benefits and is likely to be between three and six months after the last project closes. However, even before this review, many of the programme staff will have left the programme to move to new jobs and there is likely to be only a skeleton staff left to close things down.

How do I measure success?

This is clearly linked to one overriding measure – the accrual of the business benefits defined and agreed right at the start of the programme. Naturally, the cost of the programme, its timeliness of delivery and other factors may also be judged, but if, at the end of the programme, the benefits are not being realised, then the programme must be judged a failure and remedial work may be required to correct the situation. The delivery of the business benefits in the appropriate quality and timeframe should mean the programme is judged a success, because the impact of cost should have been under constant review throughout. If the programme was allowed to complete, the senior manager responsible should have decided it was acceptable and still worthwhile at the expected overall cost.

The measurement of benefits, as mentioned elsewhere, can be tricky, but if benefits have been managed from the start, it should not be too onerous. It should also be remembered, that benefits will continue to accrue, even after the programme has closed – indeed it is critical that most do. Undoubtedly, there may be some benefits which are accrued, after which there is no reason or value in measuring their continued accrual, but this is a fairly special case. In the vast majority of cases, benefits should continue to be accrued as the new processes, systems or ways of working are embedded as business as usual and the old ways becomes things of the past destined for the archive. These benefits, remember, were the reason the programme was started; they represent the desire to have a ‘better’ future, however that is played out in practice.

The future, then, should show continually-improving performance in some way or another. If this is not the case, then the original premise for the programme was perhaps ill-founded. Key performance indicators (KPI) or some such similar set of measures may be useful in tracking the further delivery of benefits in the business-as-usual environment.

The lessons which the organisation learns during the work of the programme must be recorded and appropriately distributed to help future programmes to be delivered even more effectively. If these lessons are not distributed appropriately, they can become lessons recorded rather than learned.

With any luck, the end result of your programme will be a template for future success.