A Different Mindset: From Project To Program Manager

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As a project manager, leading a project to success provides a feeling of accomplishment. Having been successful at several projects, project managers could see becoming a program manager a likely career move.

But when PMO managers were asked about the most critical factors for success, developing the skill sets of project and program managers were an area of concern, according to PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession. As a result, many organizations will renew their focus on talent development, formalizing processes to develop competency.  

In my opinion, developing a program management mindset is a key first step to successfully transitioning to a program management role. For example, moving from the linear world of a single project to the molecular world of programs can be daunting. Plus, you'll face the new experience of leading other project managers.

Here are some practices I have found valuable to adopting a program management mindset:

1. Think big picture  
A common misperception about programs is when they are viewed as one big project. Keep in mind that a program is an interconnected set of projects that also has links to business stakeholders and other projects. Adopt a 'big picture' attitude to the overall program and avoid fixating on a single project's details.

2. Create a project manager trust model  
As a project manager, you develop trust with individual contributors performing delivery activities. As a program manager, you have to develop trust with project managers. Create a common interaction framework with every project manager for progress reporting, resource management, etc.

3. Encourage project managers to say "so what?"
As a program manager, you will deal with additional reports, metrics and other information that you didn't experience as a project manager. Encourage your project managers to start dialogs with "so what" outcomes. This will get right to the direct impact on the program. Have them support these outcomes with relevant information from their reports, dashboards and metrics.    

4. Establish credibility with business leaders   
With programs, customers are typically in business functions. Immerse yourself and your project managers in their business. Training, site visits and status meetings held at business locations are good ways to immerse your team in the customer's business.

5. Develop long-distance forecasting skills
Forecasting several weeks in the future is satisfactory with a project. However, a program with projects moving at different speeds and directions requires a longer forecast horizon. Set your forecast precision in terms of months, not weeks. In addition, look for multi-project forecasting considerations such as holiday blackout periods and external project dependencies.   

What have you found effective to make the mental leap from project manager to program manager?

To discuss Pulse of the Profession on Twitter, please use #pmipulse.

See more on the Pulse of the Profession.

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: July 23, 2012 12:02 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Thanks for sharing!

Programs are multiple projects that are related in some way. That relationship makes it different from managing multiple projects that are not related. Specifically, how do the program projects relate? What are the dependencies? What time-wise synchronization is needed? What resources are shared? A network 'project' plan joining all the program projects is useful. This is like an auto assembly where major components come into the line just in time to join the assembly.
Unrelated projects don't do this except that all projects draw from shared resources and are related in that sense.

@KeithHogan - The program's projects are supposed to contribute toward a common strategic outcome some way. The more direct, the better. I have seen programs assembled absent that key information because they were on the same vendor platform or affected the same audience. While possible, that's not the point of a "PMI Program". I've also found that other lines of business will use the term program a completely different way, so it's important for all stakeholders & business partners to have a common definition and common objectives. Michael Thiry has a great book about program management from end to end I recommend. It will answer your questions better than I can in a text window. Also Eric Uyttewaal.

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