The Program Management Problem

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at andy.jordan@roffensian.com. Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

What’s a program? That’s a question I ask people a lot in various sessions that I run, and without fail most people in the room will start to quote from the PMI’s definition: “a group of related projects, subprograms, and program activities.” The wording varies slightly, but that’s always the type of response. The problem is, that’s where my audiences stop, and that reflects the way that most organizations view programs--a grouping of common projects. PMI’s definition continues, however: “…that are managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually.”

That’s a pretty important part of the definition that is being ignored, don’t you think? It illustrates the point that program management is hugely underappreciated in many organizations. Historically, the focus has always been on project management because that is the “unit of execution” for work. In recent years, there has been increasing focus on portfolio management as the vehicle for ensuring that strategic goals and objectives are achieved. These two factors provide a bottom-up and top-down approach, but program management is being left isolated in the middle of those two elements with no real understanding among organizations on how to generate value from it as a discipline in its own …

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