Management is a vital ingredient towards achieving organizational goals. More often than not, however, our knowledge about this discipline is limited to the management of people and resources, but not really a lot about the management of activities and processes. When we do, we are more focused on the short-term projects, not knowing that there is a bigger, wider discipline at work. The short-term approach may work for many smaller operations, but if we are talking about larger companies, there is a need for a more sweeping approach, one that encompasses more than one or two projects at one time.

Ultimate Guide to Program Management

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We will show you 1) what is program management, 2) the benefits of using program management, 3) the differences between program and project management, 4) the role of a program manager, and 5) major program management tools and techniques.

PROGRAM MANAGEMENT

According to the Program Management Institute (PMI), program management involves a “group of related projects that are managed in a coordinated manner in order to obtain benefits and control, which are not present if said projects were individually managed”.

This involves a collective of large-scale individual yet related or interdependent projects that span more than one year, with the deliverables expected to be completed and submitted in succession or at intervals. These individual deliverables are then taken as a whole when evaluating the program. It also often involves large sums of money, incurring millions of dollars in costs. Naturally, it is also expected that more than a few people are involved in the program. More often than not, in large and complex programs, there could be more than a couple of hundreds of people involved in the program at one point or another.

Program management refers to the combination of all the abilities and resources of the organization, including, but not limited to, the aspects of planning, progress monitoring, scheduling, cost tracking, and reporting of ongoing and completed activities into one comprehensive and integrated program.

A simple example would be a company manufacturing mobile phones. The company plans to launch a new line of mobile phones to rival, say, Apple’s iPhone within the next 12 months. This is a major undertaking, and one that requires all the resources of the company to be put to use. Early on, all divisions of the company will be engaged, such as the product development team, the design team, the marketing team, and even the distribution team. They each have their own projects, but they are all related in that they are working towards the same objective: the launch of the new line of mobile phones.

There is a need to make all these groups or projects cohesive, so program management is called for. This will ensure that all the efforts are coordinated. Dozens and even hundreds of people may be involved, but there is one single figure that exercises centralized authority over all aspects of the program: the Program Manager.

Program management involves the following functions:

  • Oversight of the application and execution related to projects. It does not involve only one or two projects. Programs are comprised of several projects that are related or bound by a single goal or objective. They are also expected to adhere to predetermined standards and processes when they are executed. Through program management, these projects are overseen with the end (the organization’s strategic goals) always in sight.
  • Establishment of business and technical processes. Effective program management entails having business and technical processes firmly in place before any project or undertaking is started.
  • Audit and implementation of established processes. There is a need to always review if the processes are implemented properly and efficiently. There is bound to be a change in business operations that will require the processes to be tweaked or altered in order to achieve best results. For example, some technical processes may have to be revamped due to the introduction of new technologies.
  • Analysis of performance of the members of the organization and the organization as a whole. It is not just the business and technical processes that need review. Program management will also put the individual and team performances of members of the organization in the spotlight.
  • Measurement and monitoring. Decisions are made based on historical information derived from actual results and performance. Program management makes it possible to monitor and measure the performance and conduct of projects towards achieving organizational goals, and the information gathered will be used by top management in all its future decision-making processes.

BENEFITS OF PROGRAM MANAGEMENT

Of course, the ultimate benefit of program management is the achievement of the company’s business goals. There are many ways that an effective program management can accomplish that.

It provides top management with a comprehensive view of the organization and its activities.

If the project-by-project approach was taken in monitoring the activities or progress of the organization, you can expect it to take a long time, not to mention the confusion that would come with it. Program managers can take a coordinated approach in handling and evaluating the projects, which may span different departments or areas of the organization, but are still connected. Program managers will be able to tell right away which projects are doing well, which ones need more work, and which ones are not going to benefit the organization in the end. This aids senior levels of management in their decision-making processes.

It ensures that all activities within the organization are aligned towards its goals.

Every evaluation of program managers of the different projects will be in accordance with the strategic goals of the organization. They are responsible for evaluating whether the activities of a project will help in delivering value, as well as increasing revenue and reducing costs.

In program management, reporting is consolidated, which allows for equally consolidated analysis of top level management of the overall progress of the organization towards its goals.

It maximizes human and other resources.

Effective program management involves putting in place a plan of how the activities will be performed, who will perform them, and what rules or guidelines should govern the performance of the employees as they go about their assigned tasks or activities. There will be clearly defined roles, responsibilities and accountabilities.

This establishes uniformity and consistency, such that the members of the organization will still be able to perform effectively even when they move to a new project right after finishing another. This also reduces the cost of having to re-train or re-educate them, or training new people.

In the same vein, the organization will also be better able to manage its resources, because they will know which projects to prioritize, and which projects can be integrated.

It minimizes mix-ups and disagreements brought about by miscommunication or lack of communication.

Program management advocates communications that are more closely-knit than in a usual project environment. The coordinated effort of the program managers will also reduce the number of issues that are related to communication hiccups. The employees are already knowledgeable about the prevailing rules and guidelines, and so they do not have to undergo re-orientation every single time. They are already speaking pretty much the same language. Thus, transitions are facilitated more smoothly.

It promotes cost efficiencies and allows the organization to enjoy cost savings.

Financial management is another aspect where program management does not have too much of a problem with, since it is almost always inclusive of budgeting, including budget execution and implementation. In projects, budget management is not high on the priority list, because the project manager is mostly concerned with completing the project within a certain timeframe and the allotted budget. The broader view of program management does not allow this narrower perspective.

All the above benefits also boil down to the organization being able to save on its spending. Say, for example, that there are five ongoing projects within an organization, but there is no program management setup in place. You are looking at five separate budgets, five separate managers, and five different sets of talents. There are also five separate systems for reporting each project status or progress to top management. That means that there are five sets of separate expenses. With program management, there are functions that can be consolidated into one, with all five project teams using it. The program manager can develop a setup where all five projects can make use of a single reporting facility, since the reports will all end up with the top management anyway.

It facilitates the delivery of change.

Program managers can plan and implement the necessary changes in a coordinated manner, and have them delivered and implemented in such a way that the current operations of the business will not be compromised or adversely affected.

PROGRAM VS PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Oftentimes, “program management” and “project management” have been used interchangeably. However, the two are not one and the same.

If we are going to speak in general terms, project management refers to the management of projects, while program management refers to managing a group, or portfolio, of projects. In short, program management has a larger scope, and a more ambitious one, too, since it pertains to handling multiple projects simultaneously.

Let us break down the differences between the two.

  • As to scope and coverage. As mentioned earlier, programs have a wider scope, encompassing a group of projects. It is safe to say that project management is under the umbrella of program management.
  • As to duration. Program management is more on the long-term side, due to the ongoing nature of programs. Projects, on the other hand, are usually short-term and do not require long-term strategic planning.
  • As to budget and financial management. Program management is bound by the limitations and expectations set forth in the overall budget or financial calendar of the organization. Usually, program managers have to deliver results on a quarterly, semi-annual or annual basis, as the case may be. Projects, on the other hand, due to their short nature, are not bound by the same demand. The project managers are not made to deliver results on regular intervals, mostly only when the project ends. The extent of budgeting and financial planning is also more complex in program management, because it covers revenue, costs and expenditures, and even investing and financing activities. Projects are more focused on costs and expenditures.
  • As to governance and control. Due to its larger scope, programs require more intensive overseeing from program managers and even higher levels of management. More often than not, project management only involves the control or governance of the project manager; senior management rarely takes part in monitoring the individual projects.

THE PROGRAM MANAGER

We can also establish the difference between program management and project management by delving deeper into the role of the program manager.

The program manager is the person who manages the portfolios, which are composed of individual, smaller projects. His approach is more holistic since, instead of focusing on the schedules, resources and scope of the project, his focus will be on the people involved in all the projects under the program. This means he will have a hand in the overall politics of the program, and in negotiations, if any.

More than just dealing with requirements of the projects, the program manager will be looking at the bigger picture, meaning the business strategies and the objectives of the program and the business organization as a whole. He will not be directly involved in the day-to-day activities in the projects within the program. While the project manager’s main concern is the completion of the project on time, within the allotted budget, and with the expected deliverables or output, the program manager will be more concerned with the delivery of value and the maximization of ROI of the business.

It goes without saying that being a program manager requires a different skill set from that of a project manager. He should be:

  • A senior-level manager;
  • Primarily involved in the advancement towards, and achievement of, organizational goals;
  • Able to manage multiple and related projects;
  • Able to achieve benefits and results that would not have been possible if the projects where individually or separately handled;
  • Able to manage horizontally, across all the functional projects within the program.

Some companies have precise standards or qualifications for their program managers. They even require them to have advanced skills in budgeting and financial management, since program management also encompasses budgeting. Other intrinsic skills looked for in a program manager include excellent communication skills, contract negotiation skills and time management skills.

PROGRAM MANAGEMENT TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES

Aside from management skills and other skills inherent in the person of the program manager, there are various tools and techniques that he can use in order to efficiently and effectively manage the programs and all the sub-projects within it.

Application of Systems Engineering. You have a program, and you were able to define the overall program goals. Now you have to identify all the activities that must be performed in order to implement the program and achieve those goals. Systems engineering often involves establishing criteria or guidelines for evaluating the project deliverables.

Staffing Management Plan. It is possible that, within the organization, one person may be working across several projects. Of course, it is humanly impossible for one person to be in two places at once, working on two separate, although related, projects. That’s why there is a need for a staffing management plan. The staffing management plan comes in handy when:

  • Identifying the human resource needed in a project. This will also help the program manager assess the need to recruit new talent where there is shortage, or reassign tasks and responsibilities where there are idle hands.
  • Pinpointing the particular time period where the specific skill set of an employee is required in each project. This is especially helpful when individual projects have to come up with their respective work schedules.

Alignment Schedule. This program schedule is where the Program Manager keeps track of the milestones of each project such as when it presents its deliverables, when the project or a sub-project is completed, or when key activities are handed off from one project to another. This certainly makes the tracking and monitoring easier for the Program Manager.

Program Network Diagram. This is basically a graph or a flow chart that shows the flow and interconnection of the work of the different projects or subprojects. It presents the sequence in which the different projects’ deliverables are completed, and even how they are dependent of one another.

Work Breakdown Structure. Keep in mind that program management deals with large-scale, multiple projects. Therefore, there is a need to break them down into smaller units or components. That is what can be achieved by using a Work Breakdown Structure. This is a good way for program managers to organize all the projects’ work into smaller, manageable sections.

Program Management Review. The program manager may also opt to hold regular program management reviews, where project leaders and other key players in the projects and subprojects are gathered together in one room for a meeting. Here, they deliver status reports on their respective projects’ progress so far, and risk assessment discussions are also conducted.

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