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  • June 4, 2021
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Discussing the Role of an NHS Programme Manager


Programme management is the task of keeping any given programme on target to meet its goals within optimal parameters. It involves all the organizational duties that keep the work pipeline clear of roadblocks, bottlenecks and other challenges so that the rest of the team can execute their own duties as effectively as possible. 

Sometimes this also means figuring out how to optimize the workflows already in place and devising more efficient ways of completing various stages of the programme. In other words, when a business seeks to minimize waste and maximize output, project or programme management is essential for that process. 

Programme Managers roles are one of the more popular jobs that we work for our NHS and public sector clients. A nuanced role with a wide range of complexities and subtleties depending on the size and scale of the programme, we wanted to bring together a few Programme Managers currently working within the NHS to discuss the role, what they think makes someone effective in a programme management role and more. 

Beverli Rhodes, Interim Programme Manager at London Ambulance Service NHS Trust 

Working as a Programme Manager across the NHS, all types of emergency and intermediate care like the  Ambulance Services , as well as private enterprise and health care providers, Beverli is leading digital transformation at the highest level.  

In addition to being the ‘go-to’ person for all the programmes that she oversees, Beverli also  acts as the influencer for executive and governance Boards,  which meets every two weeks to discuss progress, performance and mitigate   risk and issues. The Programme ensures transparency to include tracking the benefits and return on investments for the various active Programmes the NHS has running. 

We were keen to discuss Beverli’s thoughts on the role of Programme Manager.  

You’ve Got to Clearly Understand NHS Processes and Procedures 

To those looking from the outside in, the difference between Project Management and Programme Management may start and end with the name. For Beverli, however, the differences are stark and effective Programme Management starts with recognising that fact.  

“They (the NHS)  don’t often employ Programme Managers to oversee large bodies of work with various project managers. Being a Programme Manager in the NHS is very different to being a Project Manager.” 

Those coming from a private sector project management background moving into the NHS are often surprised at the rigidity of NHS processes and governance procedures. For Beverli, understanding these procedures is what differentiates a good Programme Manager from a great one.  

“You’ve got to make sure that you understand as much as possible, regarding the NHS process procedures, particularly the compliances, where there’s clinical compliance that needs to be brought in for any specific programme, and more importantly, the digitization aspects, because some trusts are more advanced than others digitally.” 

Knowing the processes and procedures of the Trusts you work in will get you far, but not far enough to drive digital transformation. Some Trusts are digital exemplars whilst others are working towards an exemplar goal. Successful Programme Managers are able to socialise projects and break them down into the core financial and operational benefits for the various stakeholders involved.  

Interoperability & Employee Wellbeing 

For Beverli, interoperability between systems is perhaps one of the high impact and most consistent challenges she, as a Programme Manager, faces.  

“There appears to be a number of key software house providers that have the lion’s share and provide the lion’s share of software. Most of those software items or packages, even the modules themselves are not fully interoperable with all of the other software providers.” 

But with NHSx  expectations, advising  that all systems on their roadmap are fully interoperable, with a collaboration and sharing agreement in place between all providers, discussions around  the lack of system  interoperability will, hopefully soon be a thing of the past.  

Another challenge that Beverli is facing, is the continued health and wellbeing of those within the organization. A  general occupational health challenge, across all Trusts , in the wake of COVID-19. 

“We’ve(all Trusts) have  seen an extremely large rise in requests through occupational health for mental health assistance, and for sudden onset of tinnitus and sudden onset of hearing loss because they’ve (staff) have  had COVID and then been asked to come back to work. We need to make sure that our very valuable workforce is kept safe and is looked after,  in the best way possible with occupational health and well-being.” 

Learn About Your Trust First 

For new Programme Managers coming into the NHS from a private sector environment, Beverli recommends reading up as much as possible on NHS acronyms and the roadmap, based on the Trust Board reports,  for the Trust you’re joining.  

“Things like the Winter Planning Session and all of the other key areas for the audit committee – find out when they take place and find out what has been cycled through consultants. Find out what is set in stone for that trust that you’re working for. And then you can work around it, because I think that the issues are when you go in newly into the NHS, there are many areas that can’t be changed due to regulations.”  

Preparing yourself with as much knowledge on the background for your new position will help set you up for success and ensure you hit the ground running. 

Mariane Lingley, Senior ICT Project Manager at King’s College Hospital NHS FT 

A swimming teacher at the time, Mariane met a senior NHS manager through an Amateur Dramatics Group she was part of. Managing to find a three-month contract assisting with data cleansing for a move to a PAC system, Mariane got her first taste of digital in the NHS. Mariane stayed on doing data cleansing for the next couple of years up until Referral to Treatment was introduced – at which point she moved on to that.  

When maternity cover for a Management Role came up in the imaging department, Mariane jumped at the opportunity and was able to flex her management skills on a nine-month contract.  

“Going from like just seeing all the data in the backend of the system, to moving over to dealing with patients and managing a team of staff who dealt with patients on a day-to-day basis. It was quite a steep learning curve.” 

Enjoying her project throughout her career and the fact she can see the end-goal, Mariane shifted her interest to development. In that space, Mariane moved into a Project Officer Role which helped support project work and compile business cases. Mariane spent 8 years in this role at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. From there, Mariane moved to Great Ormond Street in a similar role, but this time she was managing a team she could build. After that, a side-step to NHSI as an Assistant Project Manager was on the cards motivated by Mariane’s desire to see new perspectives on her role.  

“I’d seen the backend and the front facing, patient facing side, I’d seen a redevelopment and we worked quite closely with the state and facilities. So it’s very interesting seeing that side of hospitals as well.” 

This move set Mariane on her path to the Epic Install at Great Ormond Street. As the configuration manager for PAS which covered outpatient scheduling, inpatient scheduling and other components like cleaning and portering, Mariane played an integral part in the successful programme delivery.  

After the delivery of that programme, Mariane worked closely with ICT leading her to the ICT Senior Project Manager role at Kings she’s in now. 

A Project Management Background Helps 

Passion is important for most roles. When we say passion, we don’t always mean the animated passion, it’s as simple as caring about what you do. For Mariane, it’s clear when someone has that kind of passion and, from her experience, it’s always been something that people get recognised for. 

In addition to that, a background in Project Management – no matter how basic – helps.  

“You can see the way that projects work, you know to break it down into little points and you know who you need to speak to and when it needs to get done by. Knowing the dependencies between those different things is really important. “ 

Furthermore, having a good understanding of who you’re working with on these projects can help with adoption and the general health of projects which often rely on several different stakeholders.  

“You know the different ways of approaching people or speaking to people, some people, you need to just be like, direct and to the point, some people you need to talk about the situation first, and then say, oh, here’s the background to it. This is what I need. Some people, you can just say, what’s the answer to this? and they prefer it like that. Understanding your own personality type is important for building relationships with other people.” 

Empathy is also key, especially when you’re dealing with massive programmes that can, in some cases, radically change the way that people work.  

“If you’re working with specialties who are going to go through massive change, some of them will be very worried about losing their jobs, or their jobs changing massively. It’s really useful having that empathetic edge to your communication just so that you don’t come across as a sort of weird team that sits outside of the hospital that is going to suddenly change your life one day.” 

Managing Stakeholders and Social Distance 

Admittedly, there were a few projects that Mariane has worked on that she would’ve done slightly differently if it hadn’t have been for COVID-19 imposing restrictions on how she normally likes to work. 

“Normally, I would visit sites and see how it works. Look at the processes and ask questions. It’s been a challenge not being able to see these locations in person. There have been instances where people have raised ideas and issues when we’re quite far down the project and I believe this would’ve been something that would’ve come up in person.” 

The number of stakeholders involved in any one project can be overwhelming. Keeping all that knowledge centralised can also be a challenge when a single stakeholder can dramatically change the direction of the programme. Systems like MS Teams have been both a boon and a bane for Mariane.  

“It’s been really good for meetings with people who are normally hard to pin down, like clinicians. But it’s also been a challenge not sitting together as part of a team.” 

Don’t Be Afraid To Move Around 

Most people will tell you that if you want to progress in a role, you need to stick to it and remain, at least, in a similar vein.  

What worked for Mariane, however, was those little side-steps to help her gain different perspectives and, ultimately, become a more well-rounded professional.  

“There’s such a variety of stuff that happens in the NHS. Having done a lot of roles that involve those teams has given me a good insight into the challenges each face – which helps me drive better programmes. The same goes for working with patients. If you’ve never worked with patients try and get some shadowing opportunities just to see how hospitals work as a whole.” 

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