When I decided to write this post on program management, I was tempted to follow the routine format of any other blog post but then decided to do it bit differently. There are so many variables and angles to program management that it is probably best addressed as a Q&A. So here goes.
Que.: What is a program?
A program is a collection of projects that are usually done to meet a strategic need or objective of the organization. The projects in the program will have inter-dependencies between some of them. While an individual project may meet one or more objectives, the program when delivered successfully, will be broader in benefit and help meet an overall organizational strategy or objective. Another way to look at it would be – a single project may not yield all the benefits that a collection of projects would.
Que.: What are the basic elements of Program Management?
Any aspect of program management will fall under one of the following five key elements of program management.
- Program Infrastructure: Setting up all the technology, support processes, work spaces, and people required to run the program office.
- Fiscal Planning & Control: Putting in place clearly published standards, procedures, and controls for managing the fiscal needs of the program. This includes setting up of program budgets and the staff required in assisting the program manager in managing the budget.
- Planning Programs & Projects: Defining a clear framework for planning for the program and the individual projects within the program. Program Planning is very different from Project Planning and must be done after all individual project plans are developed.
- Governance Model for Program & Projects: Clearly defining the roles and responsibilities for all those participating in the delivery of the program.
- Management of Program & Projects: This is the ongoing monitoring of the program and its underlying activities. This essentially includes monitoring and reporting on program progress, financial burn-rates, percentage completion, highlighting and addressing risks, and ensuring that the environment is kept conducive for the completion of the underlying projects in the program.
Que.: Why do we need to run so many projects in parallel – why can’t we do them in sequence?
It is definitely far more complex to run a multitude of projects in parallel as a program; the reason we run these projects in parallel is for a number of reasons:
Time: Time is of the essence when it comes to executing a program; a program is almost always designed to meet a strategic need of an organization that has “time” as one of the cornerstones. For example, your program may require putting in place all the processes, people, and systems to support your organization’s strategy which may read something like: “to become the second largest provider of solar LED panels in the Eastern United State by the year 2019”. There is little chance of meeting this aim if you do all the projects required to meet this strategy in sequence.
Economies of scale: It is far more cost effective to handle projects in parallel where resources can be shared across projects and where the knowledge on one project often becomes critical to another due to the interdependencies between the projects in a program. Resource utilization is maximized and down-time is reduced.
Change: Managing change in an organization is always tricky. Staff resent change; you can gear up your staff for a major change as long as it is promised to happen for a reasonable/finite period of time after which staff knows that the organization will settle back into steady state with the promised benefits that the change will bring about. Doing projects in sequence results in staff experiencing what seems to be a never ending cycle of change resulting in burn-out due to project-fatigue.
Que.: Why do I need a Program Manager; can’t a Project Manager oversee the program?
A project manager is used to playing a role where they are focused on the specific deliverables of a project. Project managers work on detailed planning at a task level, identifying and assigning tasks to the right individual, managing a plan, and ensuring tasks are completed on time so that the project deliverable is met. Their scope of functioning is far narrower and a lot deeper than a program manager.
A program manager is a leader in the true sense of the word. The program manager brings clarity and structure to an otherwise chaotic scenario normally associated with multiple projects each vying for attention and priority. The program manager will be able to set the relative priorities for all the projects in the program by understanding the interdependencies, comparative benefits of each project, and alignment of these projects with respect to the overall goals and strategic objectives of the program. A program manager may often have to make tough decisions around diverting resources from one project to another in the overall interests of the program. A program manager’s role is strategic and macro in focus versus a project manager who tends to be more objective and micro in focus.
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Thanks for reading and be safe till my next post.