Project Management

Walking the Program Manager Tightrope

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 [email protected]. Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

Several years ago, a program manager I was chatting with said to me, “All my project management career, I wanted to be a program manager. Now I’m here, and I hate it. It’s the only job more thankless than being a PM…even the PMs hate me!” He said it in a tongue-in-cheek way, but it stuck with me because at the heart of the comment is something very true—and the sentiment he was expressing was very real. This was an experienced project manager who had consciously sought out the opportunity to advance his career into program management. Now that he had made it, he was finding it was not what he hoped.

Anyone who has been a project manager knows it can be a thankless role, with stakeholders, sponsors, team members and resource owners all frustrated because they aren’t getting what they want. In program management, all of that applies—but you can often add “project manager” to the list of roles frustrated with the program manager. That’s why in this article, I want to look at the relationship between program and project managers and see how it can be set up for success.

The sources of frustration
Before we can solve the problem, we need to understand the cause of it. What is it about project and program management that creates frustration for both sides? In this individual’s case (and I suspect in the …

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