The Juggling of Projects: Program Management in Business
Program management involves the management of various related projects in an effort to improve business performance in one or more key areas. This effort differs from project management in the scope of time, resources and goals associated with it. Someone who manages a program has leadership over all projects within the purview of the program. This includes managing project managers who are leading various singular efforts. Some companies develop program management into a department specifically for project managers.
Oversight of Projects
The supervision of several project managers within the bounds of overseeing a program includes offering guidance on how each project should be tailored to meet program goals. It should be noted that program goals and project goals are two very different things. A project may concentrate on something as detailed as improving the production of a single screen within a piece of software. The overall program to which the project belongs may have a goal of saving one million dollars over the course of the year. Additional leadership decisions at the program level include which projects are a priority and how resources and funding will be allocated to different efforts.
Differences between Projects and Programs
In addition to scope and leadership differences, there are variances in the way a project and a program are managed. Some major differences include:
- Projects have close-ended timelines while program timelines usually remain vague.
- Project success is measured by whether the targeted output is reached. Program success is constantly redefined as improvements are made.
- Alteration of a project usually has to pass change management procedures, whereas programs are designed to adapt with business needs and trends.
Some organizations view programs as giant projects, and do not define a difference between the two areas. However, it is more efficient to draw some lines between program management and project management. One way to think about programs is to compare them to a professional football team. Multiple coaches work with players. Offensive coaches, defensive coaches and special team coaches have goals for their players that are not held by the entire team. A defensive lineman does not have to throw with the accuracy of a quarterback. However, without a head coach to bring all the coaches and team members together, the team is not going to win any games.
Program Management Best Practices
Although programs are larger in scope and goals than projects, there are many best practices known to project managers that work well for program supervisors. The key to success in program management is to apply best practices across all ongoing projects while keeping overall business goals and budget concerns in mind.
The First Rule of Project Management
Anyone trained in project management knows that you have to make a choice between three important goals. It is unlikely you will completely obtain excellent quality, fast production and minimal costs. Experts advise that businesses pick the two that are most important to a project. As a program manager, you will have to make this choice for each project. Remember, what works best for one project should not necessarily be applied to another.
Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More
If planning is imperative to project management, it is doubly important to program management. Consider cooking breakfast in a kitchen. If you are making an omelette, it benefits you to plan ahead. You must ensure you have the proper ingredients and do things in the correct order. Cracking the egg before you take out the pan is evidence of poor planning. Now, consider you are making breakfast for six people and want to serve omelette’s, pancakes, bacon and hash browns. The omelette is a project; the entire breakfast is a program. You can see how the need for planning only grows as the program becomes more complex.
Planning involves all of the following:
- Determining the cost for each project in time, capital and labor;
- Ensuring proper resources are available for each project;
- Organizing projects so they do not overlap or cancel each other out;
- Delegating leadership of each project to experienced staff.
A program manager must be able to analyze data, make data-driven decisions and oversee a variety of people. Project managers with a desire to further their project may clash with each other, processes may overlap and the same person or resource may be required for several initiatives. To keep peace, avoid employee burn out and stop processes from colliding, a program manager must keep his or her eye on all the moving parts. An understanding of all business models in the scope of the program as well as the cooperation of all department and office managers and supervisors is essential to a program manager's success.