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Kathy, may l take this opportunity to thank you for your assistance. There were many times l thought l was losing my mind during my efforts with Aviva. You were a pillar of support for me and you saw my case through to the very end. I cannot thank you enough but thank you again. It is through people like you who strive for professional fairness as well as thoroughness, HCA has such a good reputation.
Ethel Chimutwe,
HCA International Ltd Staff Retirement Benefits Scheme

Managing programmes of change

All the fun and games experienced in the investment markets recently is another very real example of the challenging environment facing pension scheme trustees (particularly of defined benefit (DB) schemes) in their ongoing quest to ensure the best possible outcomes for their members.

At any point in time, pension trustees can be faced with a variety of projects which need to be managed alongside the ongoing challenges of day-to-day business as usual. These could include:

  • adviser reviews
  • GMP equalisation
  • actuarial valuations
  • single code and other governance reviews
  • financial/investment/risk reduction activities
  • preparations for the end game (buy-in/out)

Managing projects in a pension scheme environment presents particular challenges due to the many stakeholders involved, the extensive use of third-party advisers and service providers and the dynamic, constantly changing nature of the agenda for trustee boards.

Pension trustees will inevitably rely on their advisers and service providers to manage the implementation of these projects, but who is managing the ongoing programme of change at an aggregate level, ensuring an optimal journey through all these individual changes?

I know a programme management approach is most effective.

This recognises the individual projects to be implemented and ensures robust project management is in place, but focuses on managing the overall programme of change, particularly the risks, issues and dependencies that arise between the individual projects.

I’ve seen this approach work well when closing legacy DB pension plans while also setting up a defined contribution (DC) master trust for employees in a particular part of the business. While the projects on the face of it impacted different parts of the business and were delivered by different third-party providers, taking a holistic programme approach allowed the trustees to identify a specific group of members (with DB and DC benefits) up front, ensure the changes in their benefits were implemented optimally and save significant time and costs in the process.

Another example is having an aggregate picture (or plan on a page) of the member communications planned for the year ahead. This allows the pension trustees to collaborate with the sponsor, integrate and combine business as usual and project communications as much as possible. This, again, resulted in reduced costs as well as improving member experience.


Planning at the programme level does not replicate the detailed project planning undertaken by the advisers/service providers managing their individual projects. It picks out their key project milestones and sets out the ‘order of play’ and key dependencies between the projects. It facilitates parallel running between the projects (wherever possible and sensible) to ensure implementation in the optimal time.

This approach doesn’t require a massive overlay, with War & Peace type programme documentation. It can be delivered using a standard methodology (eg PRINCE2) utilised in a practical and pragmatic way – giving pension trustees the oversight they need without getting bogged down in the weeds.

For example, a RAID (risks, assumptions, issues, dependencies) log can be a key tool for managing the programme, ensuring individual project issues and emerging risks are escalated as necessary and considered at the programme level.

This approach can be seen as a natural extension of pension scheme secretarial services - building on the business plan and ensuring pension trustees receive appropriate and valuable guidance, costs are closely managed and projects are delivered efficiently with clear ownership, responsibilities and controls.

At this point, you might have worked out I believe programme management is key to supporting trustees in governing pension scheme projects. It’ll form a large part of your ‘effective system of governance’ (ESoG), drop me a line if you’d like to find out more.



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