Colourful buildings – Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash


How programmatic project management improves outcomes for cost, risk and business performance

For asset intensive sectors – such as aviation, mining, healthcare, rail and defence – taking a piecemeal approach to managing multiple similar projects concurrently is common, but it often misses the mark in terms of achieving the best possible outcomes across cost, risk and business performance for both people and assets.

However, those who turn to a programmatic approach, grouping similar projects together either by type, function, region or other relevant grouping – are realising significant value for money, reducing risk and achieving better business performance. This approach can be more important and appropriate in the uncertain financial environment that many organisations are currently facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a perception among many asset intensive organisations and sectors that planning processes do not necessarily lend themselves well to delivering projects as a group. In the face of different funding sources; separate approvals processes for individual projects; and the immense size of businesses across multiple locations, many organisations opt for a piecemeal approach to simultaneously managing ‘like’ projects and programmes. This approach usually entails each project starting from scratch, individual procurements, bespoke designs and numerous teams administering each project, as well as multiple project managers, designers, contractors, and so on.

As these piecemeal projects roll out, there is growing acknowledgement across asset intensive sectors that this approach often results in time and cost blowouts, lack of consistency across facilities, re-inventing the wheel from facility to facility, not learning from safety improvements and reduced efficiencies for business performance.

Organisations have also witnessed first-hand how this piecemeal approach lends itself to disruption across operations at sites from increased stakeholder meetings, repeated user requirement meetings and a lack of coordination of multiple projects occurring on sites concurrently. These organisations have also experienced how the approach can limit knowledge transfer or retention between similar projects and scope. 

However, for those sectors overcoming planning process challenges and turning away from the piecemeal approach to instead manage multiple, simultaneous projects in a more coordinated, integrated way (i.e. taking a programmatic approach), it’s a vastly different story.

Better certainty for good outcomes

Whether projects are grouped into a region to align local industry involvement, grouped by similar budget spend for greater cost efficiency or grouped by type of project – such as health projects, mine site facilities or aviation air traffic control towers – to get a more consistent outcome for a single type of project nationally, there are a multitude of benefits.

Perhaps the ultimate benefit is that a programmatic approach provides a higher degree of certainty to achieve better and more consistent outcomes across cost, risk and improved business performance for each asset, and those who use the facilities.

Also, extremely useful is the ability to implement lessons learnt sooner into procurement, planning, enhanced coordination with stakeholders, safety and design –  before they become larger issues further down the chain.

  • Value for money outcomes – the ability to adapt in response to requirements of cash flow: asset intensive sectors which have adopted a programmatic approach have experienced significant ongoing operational cost savings, better budget control and greater agility in expenditure profile, which is a huge challenge for many sectors. By bringing dollars forward in the project life cycle, levers can be pulled to massage the schedule and achieve the expenditure profile needed at the time. This flexibility around spend is exceptionally useful, creating the advantage of being able to tackle urgent issues and respond quickly.
  • Reduction of risk: those leading the way with taking a programmatic approach have reduced the risk of facilities not being fit for purpose; minimised risk of budget overruns or scope reduction; reduced the risk of schedule delays, and removed mistakes and production of bespoke uncoordinated designs. By taking a programmatic approach to managing individual projects across numerous locations means potential risks and resultant issues (if they impacted more than one site) can be centrally coordinated, utilising resources more wisely and enabling those learnings to be applied across other sites either at the same stage or not as advanced in their programme.
  • Benefits for business performance (people and assets): for organisations with a mobile workforce which moves between facilities – such as aviation, health, defence - taking a programmatic approach enables consistency of design across facilities. This brings significant advantages, such as reducing issues around safety, and improving staff performance in each location. A programmatic approach also positively impacts asset management, whole-of-life costs and asset optimisation. From a design perspective, having more consistency in services across buildings (such as air conditioning units), means nationally across the portfolio there is more consistency in the way the estate can be managed, and it enables more value out of bulk purchases.
  • Programming: Having multiple like projects being delivered under a programmatic approach provides flexibility to accelerate, slow down or change to other projects in response to unknown and unplanned risks.

How to get started

While many organisations can understand the benefits of taking a programmatic approach, they grapple with how to bring these benefits to life. The starting point for those who are successfully adapting their organisation to move from a piecemeal approach to a programmatic one is to first seek expertise to help identify, review and confirm if it will add value.

Is there a common project scope? Timeline alignment? Common project objectives? Supporting common capability needs? Common sites? These are just some of the critical questions asset intensive organisations need to find answers to before setting off on a programmatic journey.

They also must understand and have a clear view of the basic requirements to form a programme such as the minimal programme length (no less than 12 months) and have reviewed the structure and length of contracts to enable multiple projects. Also, considering panel arrangements for designers and contractors is important and can lead to increased flexibility in delivery, particularly around timing of delivery.

Starting to adapt to enable a programmatic approach may seem like a challenge for organisations who feel they are hampered by planning processes not traditionally set up for delivering projects as a group.

However, there are steps asset intensive organisations can take to move towards a programmatic approach. We are seeing this being done successfully in many sectors and there is huge opportunity to adopt this approach more frequently and consistently, to ultimately enable greater agility across programmes, provide better access to information for more informed decisions, achieve the best value for money outcomes, reduce risk, and enable safety and greater performance for assets, the workforce and the competitiveness of sectors more broadly.

This thinking paper is part of a collection of insights and expertise from Aurecon as it explores leading through and beyond the COVID-19 disruption. Explore our insights here.

About the authors

Stephen Carroll joined Aurecon 11 years ago and has significant experience in leading and project managing high-profile Defence infrastructure projects, including the Australian Government’s AIR 7000 maritime patrol aircraft replacement project and most recently the New Zealand Defence Force P-8A Ohakea project. Prior to joining Aurecon, Stephen was a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Australian Navy and has held many roles within Australia’s Defence Force, spanning over 40 years.

Chris Woodward is one of Aurecon’s Program Advisory leaders. He is a qualified civil engineer with over 20 years of expertise in project design and service delivery. Chris has worked on various projects spanning aviation, defence, built environment and infrastructure within Australia and abroad.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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