Thought Leadership

Runners, Repeaters and Strangers for PMO

This paper builds on the principles outlined in the Runners, Repeaters, and Strangers (RRS) approach in Lean Manufacturing Management, specifically focusing on how a Project Management Office (PMO) can use these principles to optimise portfolio performance and reduce risk. This work builds on Geoff Reiss’s book, Programme Management Demystified, which provides foundational insights into effective program management and introduces methodologies that support lean thinking in project portfolios.

Synopsis of Runner, Repeaters and Strangers (RRS) for Portfolio Management

The Runners, Repeaters, and Strangers (RRS) principle, derived from Lean Manufacturing Management, can be effectively applied to portfolio management to classify projects, and optimise processes, controls, and overall portfolio performance. By categorising projects into runners, repeaters, and strangers, a PMO can streamline process, reduce risks, and enhance resource allocation.

  • Runners: Projects that are frequent and routine with low complexity. High frequency, low variation, well-defined processes (or could be well-defined)
  • Repeaters: Projects that occur regularly but are not as frequent as runners. Moderately frequent, some complexity and variation. Follows a specific delivery model lifecycle, but difficult to codify procedure due to variation.
  • Strangers: Projects that are infrequent, high complexity and variation. Ideally follows enterprise life cycle and gates, but may require a tailored method, governance and controls to successfully realise outcome.

Playbooks for Runners, Repeaters and Strangers

The concept of playbooks in project management provides a dynamic set of guidelines that can be tailored to specific project needs. This approach is particularly effective in applying lean manufacturing principles to project portfolio management by ensuring efficiency, reducing waste, and maximising value. The logic is basic: the higher the degree of variation, the more customisation and tailoring required to the playbook. However, it is essential to ensure that the tailoring is value-add, avoiding reinventing the wheel or building from scratch. Even for stranger projects, playbooks can still add significant value by providing a structured starting point that can be adapted as needed. Playbooks also provide visibility into how processes, governance, and controls have been tailored, which helps build transparency with project teams, control functions, and stakeholders (including clients).

A playbook is a collection of strategies or methods that guide individuals or organisations in how to handle situations or tasks. It outlines best practice. procedures and standardised actions to ensure consistent and effective outcomes.

Playbooks for Stranger Projects

Stranger projects, characterised by their high complexity and infrequency, benefit significantly from dynamic playbooks. These generic delivery playbooks offer a flexible framework that can be adapted to the unique environment and requirements of each project. For example:

Dynamic Tailoring: Stranger project playbooks need to accommodate various factors such as scope, stakeholder expectations, and environmental constraints, but reflect the standard processes and controls required for project execution.  This dynamic approach ensures that the methodologies applied are fit-for-purpose and can handle the complexities and uncertainties inherent in these projects.

Supplier Methodologies: In large enterprise system implementations, such as CRM, HR, or ERP systems, the supplier’s methodology may become the primary framework. Playbooks must integrate and adapt these supplier methodologies to fit the organisation’s specific needs, ensuring alignment and successful implementation.

Flexibility and Adaptability: These playbooks must be dynamic to evolve as the project progresses, allowing for adjustments in strategies and processes based on real-time feedback and changing conditions.

Transparency: Playbooks enhance visibility into the decision-making process and how governance and controls are applied, fostering trust among project teams and stakeholders. Clear communication of the approach helps teams adapt to new methods, processes, and controls.

Playbooks for Repeater Projects

Repeater projects, which occur regularly, can utilise more specialised playbooks tailored to the delivery method or specific industry requirements. These specialised playbooks help streamline processes and ensure consistency in project execution. Examples include:

Methodology-Specific Playbooks: Depending on the delivery method, such as waterfall or agile, playbooks can provide detailed guidelines that align with these methodologies, ensuring best practices are followed.

Industry-Specific Playbooks: Certain industries have established frameworks that can be incorporated into repeater project playbooks. For instance:

  • RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) for architectural projects.
  • CIOB (Chartered Institute of Building) for construction projects.
  • IPA (Infrastructure and Projects Authority) for government projects.
  • PACE (Project Acceleration in a Controlled Environment) for Network Rail projects.
  • PCF (Project Control Framework) for National Highways

Risk-Specific Playbooks: Projects can also be classified based on their risk levels. Playbooks tailored to specific risk classifications help determine the appropriate process, governance, and controls. For example:

  • Low-Risk Projects: May use streamlined processes with minimal governance to increase efficiency.
  • Medium-Risk Projects: Require a balance of efficiency and control, with moderate governance and more detailed procedures.
  • High-Risk Projects: Need robust processes, extensive governance, and stringent controls to mitigate potential issues.

Consistency and Efficiency: These playbooks ensure that similar projects are executed in a consistent manner, improving efficiency and reducing the risk of errors.

Playbooks for Runner Projects

Runner projects, which are frequent and have low complexity, can be effectively managed using solution-specific playbooks. These playbooks focus on highly repeatable services with minimal variation, ensuring efficiency and consistency. Typical examples include:

  • System Implementation: For frequent system implementations, playbooks offer standardised procedures to streamline deployment, integration, and user training, ensuring consistency and reducing setup time.
  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Playbooks for RPA projects provide detailed steps for automating repetitive tasks, ensuring quick deployment and minimal errors.
  • Platform Migration: These playbooks guide the process of migrating from one platform to another, ensuring all critical steps are covered to avoid disruptions.
  • Diagnostic/Capability Assessments: Standardised playbooks for assessments ensure thorough and consistent evaluations, providing reliable data for decision-making.

Standardisation: These playbooks minimise variation and ensure that processes are carried out in a standardised way, reducing waste, and increasing productivity.

Runner playbooks are particularly effective in addressing questions like “How do we scale this and repeat it for other clients?” or “How can we replicate this for other functions or business areas?”

Scalability: Playbooks facilitate scalability by offering a replicable framework that can be easily adapted to different clients or business areas. This scalability is essential for organizations looking to expand their services or standardize operations across various departments.

Efficiency: Standardised processes reduce the time and resources required to plan and execute projects. With predefined procedures and guidelines, teams can quickly initiate and complete tasks with minimal variations, leading to faster project turnaround times.

Continuous Improvement: Runner playbooks allow for continuous refinement based on feedback and lessons learned from previous projects. This iterative improvement ensures that the playbooks remain relevant and effective in addressing the needs of the organisation.

Transitioning High-Frequency, Repeating Projects into Business-As-Usual (BAU)

One significant advantage of using playbooks for runner projects is the opportunity to transition high-frequency, repeating projects into Business-As-Usual (BAU) management. This shift can free up delivery resources, allowing them to focus on more complex and strategic initiatives.

However, not every runner project is suitable for transition into BAU. Typically, a lack of established processes, procedures, and controls forces these BAU changes to be managed under project governance. Implementing playbooks can address this challenge by providing the necessary structure and standardisation.

Runners, Repeaters and Strangers for PMO – Conclusion

The playbook approach offers a robust framework for a PMO to apply lean manufacturing principles to project portfolio management. By categorising projects into runners, repeaters, and strangers, and developing tailored playbooks for each category, a PMO can enhance efficiency, reduce waste, and ensure consistent delivery of value. Recognising Geoff Reiss’s foundational work, this paper highlights the importance of dynamic, specialised, and solution-specific playbooks in managing diverse project portfolios effectively. The transparency provided by playbooks into processes, governance, and controls fosters trust and collaboration among teams, control functions, and stakeholders, further supporting successful project outcomes.

Translating RRS into Playbooks

Runners, Repeaters and Strangers for PMO – References

Geoff Reiss (1996). Programme Management Demystified. Spon Press. ISBN-10: 0419213503.

Dr. Reinhard Wagner (2018) Runners, Repeaters and Strangers – applied to a portfolio of projects – Runners, Repeaters and Strangers – applied to a portfolio of projects – IPMA International Project Management Association


Connect with the writer of this article, Runners, Repeaters and Strangers for PMO, Method Grid Head of Professional Services Pip Morpeth on LinkedIn.


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