When Is Program Management the Right Choice?

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Categories: Program Management

Project managers often ask me: When is a program needed? Under what circumstances is program management appropriate? What's the difference between running multiple projects at the same time and running a program? 
In terms of delivering a benefit or generating a synergistic outcome, program management can help. This is especially true when you're managing interdependent projects.
Say you're running four projects at the same time: a hardware development project, a 3-D character animation project, an exterior design project and a controller project for a game console.

You can indeed manage these four projects separately with shared resources and technologies. But if two of the projects come from the same client, you should have a program.

Or if your company plans to own the game console -- which requires you to produce a product by integrating the deliverables of each individual project -- you need a program.
Take Nintendo's Wii. Development of the console definitely calls for the centralized, coordinated management of a program, or at least, a program-like logic to run it.

Making the Wii requires coordinating the component supply, system coding, and exterior and hardware design, including the controller. There is also storyboard planning for plots and characters for Nintendo-owned licenses to help launch the console, layouts for different language versions, etc.

Of course, the design and production of each specialized component will have to be done through individual projects. Yet they end up being part of a wider program because they are interdependent with all the other components for the final console.

A program is also necessary because to deliver the final console on schedule, a greater degree of governance has to be used. It must ensure that the projects run as planned so individual delays do not hamper the overall output of the program: a finished, completed Wii console.   
What do you think? How do you know when program management is your best option?
Posted by Lung-Hung Chou on: December 07, 2010 04:03 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Chandrasekar Ramakrishnan
Good insight Roger.

Just to add, Program Management should be considered for

1. "related" projects. The relation among the projects can span across anything, in your example, it's for the same customer.
2. When a tangible outcome can be seen when we combine two or more projects.
3. When projects deliver results for same objective.
4. so on...

Program management is needed at initiation. We are constantly battling for program control after the engineers have established the solution. Engineers seem to want to control the solutions to projects, which makes control difficult, and often a power struggle happens between the group funding the project, the program management and the engineers.

Atul Jadhav
Hi Roger, If there is common goal to be achieved via different projects then they should be called as part of program. On Secondary note every organization has different view of program management and hence it is subjective. With Due Regards Atul

David Whelboun
Thank you Roger,

In my opinion, Program Management approaches are needed when the outcome is going to be based on a set of projects (and possibly operational changes) that are tasked to deliver outcomes, which require the outputs to be coordinated.

Transformational change within an organization is probably one area where it will always be a program management approach. I could argue that implementation of any new system within an organization will require a minimum of two projects. One to get the solution ready that will deliver new capabilities, and one to get the organization ready to take advantage of the new capabilities. All to often I see the PM looking purely at the technology solution and throwing in a little training as part of organizational change management.

A program should be implemented only if there are interdependent projects that work cooperatively toward the same goal by achieving distinct objectives of that goal. To that point, I would argue against including multiple projects in a program on the basis that their is a single stakeholder for those projects.

The most critical utilization of a program is when implementing significant organizational changes that impact operations, culture or performance.

A single stakeholder wanting two new web-based applications, for example, does not warrant a program. This would create undue overhead and bottlenecks for the two projects even if resources, technology and requirements are shared or similar.

Premjit Balasundaram
Agree. Rolling up related individual projects into a single Program would also ensure - opportunity for more value addition and realized benefits to both Customer and Delivery Organizations, - stronger customer focus and understanding of business, thus leading to more opportunities for both organizations, - better financial management by moving technical, process and other overheads into a single entity at program level thereby translating to reduced cost savings for both sides, - better technology and business roadmap as compared to running individual projects

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