Project Management

Why Program Management?

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When I saw PMI’s call for papers for their 2014 North American Congress, I debated which topics I would propose to write and speak about. Over the last 10 years, I have presented at various PMI Congresses on topics of Project Management Maturity, Scheduling, Project Portfolio Management, Earned Value Analysis, Setting and Achieving Stretch Goals, and Effective Communication and Collaboration Skills. It is clearly time for something different, I thought, something on Program Management perhaps. It is one of those topics that doesn’t get enough attention. Most people assume you would just do the same thing as you would for Project Management, only that you would do it to a group of related projects.  Well, in my opinion that’s both correct and incorrect. So it’s decided then. I will speak about Program Management at this year’s PMI North American Congress.

When I’m in the planning phase for a Program, the processes I use for Program Management match those of Project Management exactly. I gather requirements for the complete scope, make sure the requirements are clear and can be met. I use the same decomposition technique to break down the scope to a manageable level which I can then assign to project managers. Call it what you want, but my Enterprise Project Structure or Program Breakdown Structure look very much like a project Work Breakdown Structure.  I even use the same tools and techniques for analogous estimating, evaluating trade-offs (build, buy or partner) and planning procurement and HR activities. Along the way, I carefully manage stakeholder expectations, taking the “cautiously optimistic” approach. I personally like to under-promise and over-deliver – but that is difficult to do because sponsors have a way of making me say “yes” to their laundry list of wishes. Even so, I have been called a “Spoiler” by my executive sponsor on many occasions.  So at least for me, planning a program is very much the same process as planning a project, only I stop at a higher level of detail and let the assigned project managers take over from there.

Once the Program Plan is approved and projects can begin, the Program’s execution, monitoring and control phases are also similar to those in Project Management. The key difference, is the effective summarization of the relevant project details so that I can “see the forest for the trees.” I need to know the program progress at a high level, while making sure important events and trends are not missed (or worse, hidden!) As a program manager, I also need to play match-maker between project managers, and reminding them how each project is dependent or impacting another project in the program.  I find that project managers can become myopic (probably for their own sanity and self-preservation!) about their own projects and they often forget (or avoid) to inform the related projects which they impact. Information about project progress needs to flow up and down at the appropriate level of detail so program decisions can be made effectively and in a timely manner. When done well, it’s why Program Managers deserve to “make the big bucks.”

In my presentation at Congress, I will share some real examples to show how Program Management is different and challenging at the same time.  If you are managing programs or large projects that contain many sub-projects, I hope you will attend and share your experience with all of us. Until then, be well.

Posted by Kristy Tan Neckowicz on: September 01, 2014 08:24 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Kristy, I am looking forward to your presentation at Congress.

One of the challenges I have seen with program management is that the program manager often deems it necessary to get involved in the weeds of each project. I guess that is analogous to the project manager who feels it is necessary to know EVERY detail of the project, these program managers often get in the way of the project managers who are trying to deliver on their individual (but related) project deliverables to make the program be successful.

The other common problem I have seen is almost the inverse of the first, where the project managers WANT the program manager be involved in everything, or at least know the details of everything going on within each project. Sometimes the project managers feel the program manager is incompetent because he/she can''''t get into the weeds at the level the project managers or staff can.

I believe it is the project manager''''s job to run his project, and the program manager''''s job to coordinate the projects -- and based on your comment about the forest and trees I believe you agree.

If the program manager knew the details of each project we would not need project managers (much like if the project manager has to know all of the details of each of their staff members work we would not need the staff).

So, will you talk about ways to set this expectation of the program and project managers? I don''''t mean through a RAM or similar structure, but more from a perception and expectations standpoint.

Dan, I totally agree with you that it is the project manager's job to manage the project, and the program manager's job to coordinate among all projects at a higher level. The "common problem" you described is truly one of my pet peeves (and I that I try to remind myself often, in my own role as a senior manager). Assuming the organization is large enough so that people are not required to wear multiple hats all the time, the program manager must let project managers do their jobs and not get into the weeds with them or for them. I am all about giving program managers the right level of information so they can make better decisions that impact projects. That way, program managers do not feel the need to know every detail about the projects, and project managers do not feel the need to share every detail. This is actually a lessons learned from the case study I will share during the presentation. Looking forward to meeting you at the Congress!

Program management is necessary in order to achieve certain advantages which can be realized when project are handled in interrelated manner as the performance and input information are dependent among the projects

Further when there is ambiguity, it is even more essential to handle the related projects as program and pursue a direction which is optimum for all projects.

It also enlightens project manager, who is more worried about his project and either not aware or ignores how dependent is the business value and organization strategy upon the integrated management of project at program level

I look forward to your presentation. I won't be able to attend. Will it be available afterward for viewing? Thanks!

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