MSP course review

I have passed my MSP foundation and practitioner course, originally booked with http://www.teampm.co.uk/ although I opted to change to the knowledge academy http://www.theknowledgeacademy.com/ as the earlier company kept rescheduling the course due to a lack of enrolled delegates.  I thought I would share some of my thoughts and feelings about the MSP course for those not familiar with the topic

So what is MSP?

PRINCE2 defines a project as “…a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed business case”. 

In a project portfolio there may be the situation of having multiple projects being  delivered to a customer or business area  that are linked or interdependent on one or more projects/services, it may make sense to group those projects into a programme.

On a simple level, the project manager is mainly concerned with the process of delivering a project (work packages, resource management, project risk and issues and meeting milestones on time and budget) which will result in a product or output.  Whereas a Programme manager is less concerned about the day to day running of individual projects (that’s the PMs job) but is looking at the portfolio from a holistic level, and risks and issues affecting the program and project interdependencies. 

One of the key differences between the PM and Programme manager is how the end product is seen.  As mentioned earlier the PM is striving to deliver the customer  requirements that will result in a product/output, but the programme manager sees it differently, they look at it as projects deliver outputs that provide an outcome that will deliver benefits aligned to a corporate strategy.

Or in the words of http://www.msp-officialsite.com/

 “In MSP, a programme is defined as a temporary, flexible organization created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to the organizations strategic objectives.  A programme is likely to have a life that spans several years.

The MSP syllabus is divided into 3 areas

Programme management principles

One of the balancing acts with governance is that fine line between to controlling of the project management process too much to eliminate any individual project management flair/creativity, versus giving a free reign to every project manager and thus having no clear and accurate progress reporting and assurance checks.  The MSP addresses this problem by referring to 7 programme management principles that are not prescriptive but are clear as to their intent and if followed will increase the likelihood of achieving the programme objectives

  • Remaining aligned with corporate strategy
  • Leading change
  • Envisioning and communicating a better future
  • Focusing on the benefits and threats
  • Adding value
  • Designing and delivering a coherent capability
  • Learning from Experience

Governance themes

There are 9 themes that are used as a framework to ensure there is open and clear governance to allow the programme change objectives to be met whilst demonstrating the appropriate level of corporate visibility and control

  • Programme organization
  • Vision
  • Leadership and stakeholders
  • Benefits management
  • Blueprint design and delivery
  • Planning and control
  • The business case
  • Risk and issue management
  • Quality and assurance management

Transformation flow

With the programme principles in place supported by appropriate governance then you are left with the actual execution of the Programme following this end to end iterative lifecycle programme

  • Identifying a Programme
  • Defining a Programme
  • Managing the Tranches
  • Delivering the Capability
  • Realizing the Benefits
  • Closing a programme

Accreditation levels

At the time I took the course there were 2 levels of MSP accreditation:

  • MSP foundation (3 day course)
  • MSP practitioner (2 day course)
  • But recently an MSP advanced practitioner was added

If you prefer instructor led training you can either opt to do each course separately over several weeks or in the more intensive 1 week slot.

Foundation and practitioner course spread out courses vs the intensive course, which course approach to do?

2 courses spread over several weeks:

Advantages

  • The material is not difficult to learn but there is a lot of it, so spreading the courses out over several weeks spreads the learning out into more manageable chunks
  • You can learn at your own pace
  • Less time pressure if you fail one of the exams
  • Over the extended period of time, work is likely to get in the way of learning time
  • If left too long you may find it difficult to remember all the material
  • The materials learned in the foundation course will still be fresh in your mind for the practitioner
  • Less likely to have external influences like work affecting your learning over the short period of time
  • It is an intense timeline that you are working to, with new processes, themes to absorb into your thinking in such a short period of time
  • There is a really big time commitment required in terms of pre-reading and nightly homework that needs to be carried out each night of the course in readiness for both exams
  • If you do not pass the foundation on day 3 then you need to complete the re-sit during the week course, taking the test again is not a disadvantage but psychologically the extra pressure on you can affect you for the rest of the course

Disadvantages

The intensive 1 week course

Advantages

Disadvantages

I opted for the 1 week intensive course which covered both the foundation and practitioner elements.

The MSP Foundation

The MSP Foundation course focuses on teaching the MSP principles and terminology but in the 3 days that the course spans the focus is more on getting you in a position to pass the exam rather than applying the material to real life programme scenarios.  The exam itself:

  • Multiple choice
  • 75 questions per paper with 1 mark available per question
  • 5 questions to be trial and not counted in scores
  • 35 marks required to pass (out of 70 available) – 50%
  • 60 minutes duration
  • Closed book.

The MSP Practitioner

The MSP Practitioner course focuses on teaching the delegates to apply MSP to the running and managing of a programme. During the 2 days the course ran the majority of the time was spent completing previous exam papers and discussing the answers.  The exam itself:

  • Objective testing
  • 8 questions per paper
  • 40 marks required to pass (out of 80 available) – 50%
  • Two-and-a-half hours duration
  • Open-book (only the MSP Guide is allowed).

The course itself

On the course I attended there were 6 people in total from varying backgrounds, not everyone was currently working on a programme, and the delegates ranged from both public and private sector employees

My observations were that the delegates with a programme management background did not have an advantage on the course as the programmes they were currently working on were not aligned with the MSP best practice approach.

  • Foundation course – all 5 delegates passed 1st time, 1 delegate had to take the test again and passed 2nd time
  • Practitioner course – only 3 out of 6 delegates passed

I really enjoyed this course, there was a good mix of people to network with, but it also gave me ‘food for thought’ about how to view the deliverables of projects and programmes with a greater vision and business focus in mind.  It left me eager to get back to the programme I was working on to implement some of the best practices I had learnt.

Tips

  • First and foremost shop around for a good deal, the later you leave enrolling on a course the cheaper the advertised price (but there is less time to do the pre-course work)
  • When phoning a training company start with “What is the best price you can do me for the MSP course?” , a delegate on my course did this several weeks before the course (and before I enrolled) and he was given a price with a massive reduction (he even paid less than I did booking last minute)
  • The 1 week course is intense and draining, so pick a training location that is close (no more than 1 hr commuting time)
  • Consider staying in a hotel or b&b during the course to avoid ‘domestic distractions’
  • Actually do the course pre-reading (around 15hrs work)
  • Actually do the daily homework (2 hrs work per night) as it will show you the areas  you need to focus on in your revision
  • If you are an experienced PM, don’t get bogged down in the terms that may be different to the ones you currently use and don’t challenge the material if you think the ‘real world’ is different to the course material, REMEMBER the exams are on the material and not how it is done in the company you work for
  • Don’t expect the material to sink in if you passively read a chapter a few times, you have to really get engaged in the ‘what’ and ‘why’ the processes and themes are designed how they are
  • You are a customer on this course, it is in your interest to speak up if there are elements of the topics that you don’t understand
  • Have fun on the course and use it to increase your professional network
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