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.