What is Program Management? From two Program Managers.

Transcribed from a Coffee Project video, found HERE! (Or scroll to the bottom of this page)

Lightly edited by Hannah Cui.


Kamil Mroz: Yeah, well the obvious difference is when you look at projects you're really managing one project, you know, from start to finish. But when you are managing programs, it's typically a combination of projects that are trying to achieve a strategic outcome or a strategic direction for the organization. So the difference is- and there's definitely a difference in the focus that each role has to have on elements like the business case, like benefits realization, like the more strategic connection to to the company.

Because at a project level, the project is a temporary organization. So, you know, as a project manager, you jump in or you start it off, you kick it off and then you close it down. But as a program manager, even when one individual project closes and the outputs are handed over, you still need to have an oversight on whether or not the benefits that were initially sought out in the business case are are actually materializing. And so you have, I would say, maybe a more vested, a longer term interest in sticking around longer and having that rather strategic overview.

And then also when you look at the more technical topics like risk management, like budget management, that there is a slightly different focus to it maybe at the program level- a higher level perspective, whereas in the projects, I think you kind of have to look at more project related risks to the outputs that you're trying to arrive at. So there's a more granular perspective on the more technical elements.

Yeah, what else can I say? There are definitely building blocks like starting off in project management- I think you mastering that fundamental layer of project management is a great launch pad to get into program management, and program management is then a great launch pad to get into portfolio management and more strategic elements of the organization. So they definitely build on top of each other.

I'm really curious to hear what you have to say James, being an aficionado of program management.


James Bawtree: Well I certainly agree Kamil, and those building blocks and the sort of traditional path from sometimes coordinator- actually I see a lot of and in fact if I go back one further- an Executive Assistant- so somebody that's outside of the project space. And they learn really good project management skills in being an executive, or a personal assistant to an executive, and then they come in as a coordinator in a project environment, work up to a project manager/program manager. Often I see and I recommend people also spend time as a PMO- so going in and supporting multiple initiatives helps them to better understand when they become a program manager how to manage them. So it's that sort of soft- it's like a two IC type role where they're supporting the program manager, but they're not actually the program manager. So when they do become the program manager, they've rehearsed, if I go back to my previous example.

I suppose from a definitional perspective, I agree "projects"- you know, time-cost-scope is your traditional triple constraints. The way I see programs is, in PMLogic we talk about a "program diamond".

So projects is definitely one quadrant.

The second then is the target operating model- so that's- and that's incremental, so what's your vision we spoke about earlier, and what does it look like when you're going to get there? And so to be an effective program manager, excuse me, you need to make sure you've got work going to define that target operating model. And then just as you're reaching that, you're then defining the next one, because it needs to evolve. You can't define a target operating model in three or two three years time and that's it- it needs to be you know either quarterly, annually or you know, whatever! Depends on the amount of change, obviously, is really important. So that's the second quadrant- target operating model.

The third one then is change management- and so for me I'm talking about organizational change. And for me the difference between projects and programs is org change is within the program, whereas within the project typically, the change manager may be paid for by the project, but the organizational change isn't part of the scope of the project. It's going to take too long ultimately. The project can deliver an output, but actually having that output used by people is obviously a much longer period, and therefore is inefficient for the project to continue for that duration.

And then the fourth quadrant- change is the third- the fourth one then is benefits management which you mentioned Kamil.


So having those four key elements I think is absolutely critical and just focusing on the the benefits and the target operating model and the change, so the other three elements outside of projects-running an organization is also part of a program in my view. You've got to be mindful of how much change can the organization take on? How many resources are you going to take from the organization offline, for want of a better word, to support your program? And those resources will be business subject matter experts, they will be operational people... so the worst thing that programs can do is to just pull in all these resources and then the business falls over.

So program managers and program directors, program leaders need to be really mindful around monitoring the way the business is performing. So making sure it's sustainable, and then looking at resource management really critically and carefully around how do they make sure that they draw on sufficient resources to meet their needs, but not too many for the reasons to fall over.

Talking about metrics, so that was the performance that I mentioned out of our 5 core principles (strategy implementation principles)- the other thing that we always recommend is make sure that rather than focusing on a metric at a point in time, look at trend analysis. So there's some really good examples of failures and there's lots of examples of failures. Unfortunately 70 odd % of projects failing and programs failing, big ERP programs.


And there's a good case in the UK where a major supermarket chain was running a project or program to set up a new enterprise resource planning system, and whilst they were doing that, the program itself was running really well, however they weren't monitoring the business sufficiently, and the supermarkets were running out of milk! Something very simple, milk. However, most people went to supermarkets and they did their grocery shopping, and they would normally pick up milk- so when your supermarket doesn't have milk, what did that mean? There was less traffic, so less people went to the supermarket- and as a result of that, the revenue coming in to this organization reduced. They were using the revenue to fund this programe, and then they therefore had to stop the program because they ran out of money.

So just shows and that for me is the a failure of the program manager or program leader to look at what do I need to monitor in the organization to make sure my program's successful?


Kamil Mroz: Yeah it's a very good point, this whole notion not only of performance management, but for me it's a bit strategic or environmental scanning- having this ability to understand what's going on beyond the walls of the the project or the program. And I think that's a very important bit of the job as a program manager- is seeing that strategic side, being able to connect the dots, taking your good old-fashioned PESTLE or SWOT or whatever you're doing to look at internal and external, environmental factors, and making sense of that for the organization- for what it means for the team, for resource management, for the success of the strategy, for the success of the portfolio. And I really like that example- indeed, as for me in program management, and i link back to the talent triangle from PMI- where you have the three key pillars- the technical skills you need to be successful in project and program management, the leadership skills, and then the strategic and the business acumen, I think you you really hit it spot on James, that it's this notion of of being business savvy, understanding the strategy, understanding what it means and how it translates into your program, and how your program is contributing to that. And connecting the dots from internally and externally and and bringing value to the team so that they can also focus on getting the job done from an execution, a more technical perspective. So yeah- very good point.




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