The widespread use of programme management has outpaced our ability to grasp and codify a complex and subtle phenomenon. The dominant perspective of programme management is essentially project-based, tending to view programme management as an extension of project management. The most comprehensive and widely used programme management framework in the UK, Managing Successful Programmes, is published and used by the Office of Government Commerce, and purports to be pragmatic guidance in the form of key principles and techniques. This paper describes research on the actual practices used on programmes in commercial and UK public sector organisations. Using Managing Successful Programmes as a template for the data collection and analysis, we studied six programmes. Even in cases where Managing Successful Programmes was the mandated approach, the processes and techniques were not consistently applied, rather elements of the framework were selectively chosen and adapted. The research revealed significant and on-going crafting of programme content, structures and processes to reconcile divergent aims and interests, to expedite progress in the face of adversity and to engage multiple sponsors, contributors and stakeholders. The research highlighted the importance and influence of context, namely the dynamic cultural, political and business environment in which the programmes operate, and the organisationally embedded nature of programme management.