Program Management – Being the Glue

Program Management
Program Management

A project can be large and complex. But as business organizations develop more complex strategies, their efforts get even more complex. This leads to more complicated projects and ultimately, programs, requiring the separate skill of program management.

Virtually every organization has projects. They can be as small as one person for a couple of days. Others involve large teams over several months.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as:

A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. Projects have a definite beginning and an end – a limited duration.

As strategic decisions expand, many projects may be going on at the same time. While some of those projects may have little to do with others, others may be related in multiple ways. Similar stakeholders can be effected. Some may draw from the same division’s budget. Others may perform similar activities.

When this occurs, it may be time to create a program under which those related projects can be executed. This allows the planning and execution of the projects to be coordinated across many aspects.

Each project normally has a project manager. A program manager is then brought in to perform the coordination of those efforts. But what is the key role of the program manager?

Essentially, a program manager has centralized responsibility for making sure that the portfolio of separate projects works together in harmony. Program managers provide a strategic approach adding cohesion across each work stream.

While the program focuses on an overarching set of objectives, projects have specific and more singular objectives and outcomes.

The program manager acts as the glue that holds the project work streams together. In order to be that glue, there are some key responsibilities that a successful program manager needs to perform.

Strategic vision – The program manager needs to align each of the program work streams with the organization’s business strategy and strategic goals. The project managers within the program have their individual project charters. The program manager needs to have a deep understanding of the corporate strategy. She then needs to be well-informed of project status to ensure that it is aligned with the over-arching strategy.

Coordination – Each project work stream has its own milestones and deadlines. The program manager helps each project manager coordinate their timelines to address inter-project dependencies. The program manager also makes sure that deadlines that affect common stakeholders are coordinated to avoid overloading them at the same time.

Additionally, there are often resources that each project needs, but none of them require full-time. For instance, on IT projects, an IT architect may work part time on a project. Within a program, the program manager can balance the work of one or more people across several projects.

Communication – In an organization where several large projects are going at various levels of completion, few know what the other projects are doing. Some may be unaware that some other projects even exist. The left hand often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

This can be detrimental for projects that have interrelated goals and outcomes. I once was on a project in which applications servers were being decommissioned. We learned that at the same time, another project was purchasing additional memory for one of these servers.

Most projects have daily “stand-up” meetings to ensure cross-communication with the project team. Programs should do the same with project managers and critical team leads. This makes sure that every project is aware of what the others are doing.

Governance – Project managers are given a budget and are generally charged with staying on time and within budget for the project. Change control processes allow them to modify the parameters as needed.

The program manager focuses on the ROI of the program as a whole. The program manager needs to ensure that the proper projects are introduced to the program that will provide the most benefit to the bottom line.

Conclusion

The roles of project managers and program managers have some similarity and overlap. But the program manager has the responsibility to make sure that all projects within the program work in harmony. Ensuring coordination between the project work streams requires a strategic approach certifying coordination across all projects.

How do you ensure coordination across projects within your program?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

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