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Program Management: What It Is and Why It’s Important

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“Wait, who was supposed to do that?”

“Weren’t you?”

“I thought it was him.”

“I thought it was her.”

“Well, I thought it was done already!”

When trying to successfully execute a complex program this type of conversation can be all too familiar and can take a program from on-schedule and on-budget to the opposite end of the spectrum very quickly.

What is Program Management?

Program management is a process that allows teams to create a system of projects aimed at accomplishing a singular goal. This connection between individual projects creates alignment towards larger major goals within an organization and ensures that an organization can focus all efforts towards increasing efficiency and success.

Implementing program management systems allows for a comprehensive view of the entire program, making unified goals easier to accomplish.

What is a Program Manager’s Role?

The program manager’s responsibility is to have knowledge of all the projects and to make sure that various project’s goals do not interfere with one another. This means that the program manager will have a 360-degree view of the program and be sure that the projects are working in concert to achieve a singular goal.

Program managers oversee the activities with a bird’s eye view. They are able to look at them from the perspective of the entire organization. There should be an understanding that projects should not be completed just for the sake of it. This allows for a more efficient use of time and resources. Program management allows for the ability to process project requests from an organizational standpoint and to make sure that projects are getting the proper returns. This leads to lower costs overall.

Program managers can help prevent examples like this from occurring. The program manager is responsible for working directly with the core project management teams to assemble a master project schedule. He or she is responsible for ensuring accountability for all team members and for driving the project to completion. Part of this duty is to develop a list of potential obstacles that could impede operations such as resource requirements, inventory obstacles, budget constraints, cash flow issues, scheduling conflicts, workforce safety, labor relations and insurance requirements. This aspect of the program manager’s role is critical. The identification of gaps, which may not have been considered by the individual project managers can quickly bring the implementation to a halt.

Next, program managers are essential in coordinating implementation efforts. They will manage daily project activities and general conditions, enforce safety programs, coordinate labor relations, implement time and cost control systems, approve progress payments and administer contract changes.

Finally, project start-up and closeout are conducted under the watchful eye of the program manager. Systems validation of punch lists, testing, employees training and demonstration of contract requirements all occur at the project go-live. When it is time to close out the project the program manager must administer project closeout with the various vendors involved.

Key Aspects of Program Management

  • Governance – Managing the structure, process, and procedure to control operations and changes to performance objectives. Governance must include a set of metrics to indicate the health and progress of program management in the most vital areas.
  • Alignment – The program must support a higher-level vision, goals and objectives.
  • Assurance – Verifying and validating the program, ensuring adherence to standards and alignment with the vision.
  • Management – Ensuring there are regular reviews, there is accountability, and that management of projects, stakeholders and suppliers is in place.
  • Integration – Ensuring that component parts fit together properly to make the intended whole. Optimize performance across the program value chain, functionality and technically.
  • Finances – Tracking basic costs together with wider costs of administering the program.
  • Infrastructure – Allocating resources influences the cost and success of the program. Infrastructure might cover offices, version control and IT.
  • Planning – Developing the plan bringing together the information on projects, resources, timescales, monitoring and control.
  • Improvement – Continuously assessing performance; research and develop new capabilities; and systematically apply learning and knowledge to the program.

Why Implement Program Management?

  1. A Broader View of Company Benefits and Risks

Since program management oversees each project’s potential risks and benefits to larger business objectives, it can help a team catch issues ahead of time. This establishes a system for the organization to tackle issues in a timely and effective manner without escalating feelings of alarm. It also enables program managers to keep track of each project’s effectiveness towards company objectives.

2. Saving on Costs, Resources, and Time

Effective program management allows teams to foresee potential roadblocks before projects are approved, reducing the time and costs required to resolve issues down the line. Each project utilizes resources such as people, capital, and material goods. When these resources are allocated among the different projects, they help maximize the potential of each project. Program management makes sure every project is properly utilizing its resources to benefit the organizational objectives.

3. Better Communication and Flow of Information

Taking time to establish procedures, information, and communication takes time. If every project is using a different method, putting the information together can slow operations a great deal. Program management builds a consistent line of communication between the projects and business objectives, ultimately, keeping all employees informed and on the same page.

Program Management vs Project Management

Unlike program management, which focuses on multiple tasks leading to the same objective, project management focuses on a singular task. These singular tasks are short-term projects that focus on one goal or objective. Project management ensures that singular tasks inside the program are being completed, while program management ensures that those singular tasks are meeting the larger organizational objectives.

Some ways to tell the difference between project and program management include:

  • Timeline  – Project management involves short-term deadlines and time restrictions. Program management focuses on implementing changes throughout each project over time.
  • Measurement – Tasks from a project management perspective are usually measured by their success in meeting specific time and costs requirements. Program management measures tasks by their ability to improve organizational success and benefits.
  • Management – Project managers are responsible for one or more projects, while program managers are responsible for all projects within their program. Project managers will report to program management.
  • Change – Project management is designed to follow a specific pattern and has a predetermined scope for each project. Program management is designed to follow any organizational changes and does not follow predetermined arrangements.

Program management is the glue that binds design projects together. Discover the essential traits program managers should possess and the steps necessary for effective program management.

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