Every once in a while, program management is compared to a train conductor who manages several trains running on different tracks but headed to the same destination.
A program is just that, a cohesive bunch of independent projects all aimed towards achieving the organizational goal or fulfilling strategic business initiative.That in itself explains how a project is different from a program. Project is all about deliverables like product or service offering within the ambit of the time, manpower and budgetary constraints. Ex. A company like Apple launches several products with regular intervals. So launch of Apple 14 would be a project. At the same time, Apple would also be developing high end advanced watches, computers and the like, which all run parallel to each other. Every project is time bound and is a mini business in itself, having its own lifecycle. However, a program takes along all the allied projects at the same time. A program may be a continuous one and most programs run even beyond organizational change, accomplish multiple goals and have within their ambit numerous projects that all contribute towards the company’s growth. To put it simply, projects are all about outputs while programs are about outcomes.
The Program Manager
Any initiative needs a leader. How would a program be any different? A Program Manager is well versed with strategy and typically oversees or supervises several projects, products and strategic initiatives (including human resource ones) within the organization. These could be as diverse as launching a new product, opening a new branch or initiating a new marketing campaign.
Role of a Program Manager
Like the conductor of a symphony, the Program Manager manages to bring about harmony between diverse players and their teams as they embark upon different tasks. Imagine multiple projects running within a company, each requiring resources and utilizing valuable funds, but none aware of what the other is doing or where it is headed. You would need someone to find coherence between the two, while having his eyes and ears to the ground and a grasp on all progress. I would consider them as key enablers for the value that they bring to the organization.
Attributes of a Program Manager
This is the reason why a Program Manager is required to be a good leader, communicator, having sound knowledge of business case planning and delivery as also having enough experience to have handled critical projects so as to advice others. He is also expected to have the credibility and integrity to keep the company’s best interests and earn the respect of the various teams.
Key roles of the Program Manager
- The Program Manager has to sync all the ongoing projects by getting a bird’s eye view of their progress and ensure that they are all aligned to the same organizational goals. In doing so, it allows him to see how and where synergies and inter-dependencies can be achieved. This enables multiple projects to be streamlined across common platforms. It also enables cross functional teams to leverage on capabilities.
- Being available for review to all project managers under his ambit. Since all these projects are aligned, it becomes crucial that one person is able to take stock of their progress and provide guidance. Since he has access to all projects and their progress, he can share key insights with each other thereby enriching projects.
- All projects are like mini businesses and hence run across timelines, using diverse resources and putting to action people from varied backgrounds. The Program Manager is able to bring synergy among the cross functional teams through open communication channels.
- Since the Program Manager has a organization-wide view and access to resources, he can have a clear sense of progress and their requirements. This enables him to track progress of all ongoing projects at once.
- Program managers are adept at maximizing utilization of resources since they have access to information about all projects. Which means that when a project gets over and resources are available, the one that is still running can be allotted those resources, thus speeding up the next one.
- Since the Program Manager is not directly and actively involved in every task, he has the luxury of time for thinking and strategizing. This benefits the individual projects and the team members who are deeply engrossed in getting things done. This is not to mean that the program manager has no real work, it is just that guiding, managing, streamlining, strategizing are his core tasks. You always need someone to come back to for guidance when things aren’t working as planned, when something goes wrong, when you encounter a problem or hurdle or when you lag behind in achieving deadlines.
- The strategic role of a Program Manager enables diverse projects to be assessed with respect to their schedules, utilization of resources, risks and pitfalls and budgetary limits. This is why Program Managers can provide value by refining the operating models, engage with all stakeholders and assess risks and progress objectively. While doing this, they also indirectly support decisions within the organization. These are tasks that would have otherwise overwhelmed Project Managers.
- Engaging with stakeholders is a key task of the program manager. Project managers being tied up in completing the project, the role of communicating with involved people like clients, authorities, designers and the management lay with the program manager who can seamless gather and share insights in doing so.
- This is exactly why a program manager’s intervention is needed in decision making. He is the one person who has a grip of things – good or bad- and can provide his frank view in making decisions. He shares insights that work advantageously towards the company’s goals.
The Program Manager proves a valuable asset to the organization because he brings in synergy between different teams working on various projects. Being at a vantage point in seeing several projects from a distance provides him with an objective view, bereft of any influence of constraints.
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