Program Management

Program Management

Program Management is the process of managing several related projects, often with the intention of improving an organization’s performance. In practice and in its aims, program management is often closely related to systems engineering, industrial engineering, change management, and business transformation. In the defense sector, it is the dominant approach to managing very large projects.

The Program Manager has oversight of the purpose and status of the projects in a program and can use this oversight to support project-level activity to ensure the program goals are met by providing a decision-making capacity that cannot be achieved at project level or by providing the project manager with a program perspective when required, or as a sounding board for ideas and approaches to solving project issues that have program impacts.

The program manager may be well-placed to provide this insight by actively seeking out such information from the project managers although in large and/or complex projects, a specific role may be required. However this insight arises, the program manager needs this in order to be comfortable that the overall program goals are achievable.
Many programs focus on delivering a capability to change, and are normally designed to deliver the organisation’s strategy or business transformation. Program management also emphasizes the coordinating and prioritizing of resources across projects, managing links between the projects and the overall costs and risks of the program.

Program management may provide a layer above the management of projects and focuses on selecting the best group of projects, defining them in terms of their objectives and providing an environment where projects can be run successfully. Program managers should not micromanage, but should leave project management to the project managers. However, program management might need to deal with interdependencies, conflicts and resource or knowledge sharing among the projects it manages.

The key difference between a project and a programme is that benefits are delivering within the programme lifecycle compared to a project when they are delivered after the project has finished, this is a vital distinction as benefits management is the driving force within successful programmes.

There are the two different views of how programs differ from projects. In one view, projects deliver outputs, discrete parcels or “chunks” of change programs create outcomes.In this view, a project might deliver a new factory, hospital or IT system. By combining these projects with other deliverables and changes, their programs might deliver increased income from a new product, shorter waiting lists at the hospital or reduced operating costs due to improved technology. The other view is that a program is nothing more than either a large project or a set (or portfolio) of projects. In this second view, the point of having a program is to exploit economies of scale and to reduce coordination costs and risks. The project manager’s job is to ensure that their project succeeds. The program manager, on the other hand, is concerned with the aggregate outcome(s) or end-state result(s) of the collection of projects in a particular program. For example, in a financial institution a program may include one project that is designed to take advantage of a rising market and another that is designed to protect against the downside of a falling market. The former seeks to leverage the potential upside; the latter to limit the possible downside. Consider a simple analogy: Fix-A-Flat®. This highly pressurized aerosol product injects a leak sealant into a punctured tire to stop the outflow of air (project A) and concurrently re-inflates the tire (project B), resulting together in the outcome that is a tire that is once again functional (the program comprised projects A and B)

According to the view that programs deliver outcomes but projects deliver outputs, program management is concerned with doing the right projects. The program manager has been described as ‘playing chess’ and keeping the overview in mind, with the pieces to be used or sacrificed being the projects.

One view of the differences between a program and a project in business is that:

  1. A project is unique and is of definite duration. A program is ongoing and implemented within a business to consistently achieve certain results for the business.
  2. A project is designed to deliver an output or deliverable and its success will be in terms of delivering the right output at the right time and to the right cost.
  3. Program management includes management of projects which, together, improve the performance of the organization. A program’s success will be measured in terms of benefits.
  4. Benefits are the measures of improvement of an organization and might include increased income, increased profits, decreased costs, improved market position (ability to compete), reduced wastage or environmental damage, more satisfied customers. In central or local government organizations, benefits might include providing a better service to the community.
  5. In the course of achieving required results, business programs will normally understand related business constraints and determine the processes required to achieve results based on resources allocated. Improvement of processes is a continuous operation that very much contrasts a program from a project.
  6. At the lowest level project managers co-ordinate individual projects. They are overseen by the program manager who accounts to the program sponsor (or board).
  7. There will normally be a process to change the predetermined scope of a project. Programs often have to react to changes in strategy and changes in the environment in which the organization changes.

Another view and another successful way of managing does not see any of the factors listed above as distinguishing projects from programs, but rather sees the program as being about portfolio management. On this view, program management is about selecting projects, adjusting the speed at which they run, and adjusting their scope, in order to the maximize the value of the portfolio as a whole, and as economic or other external conditions change. Still, some emphasize that whereas a portfolio consists of independent projects, a program is a collection of interdependent projects, adding a dimension of complexity to the management task.

 

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