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Step up to Program Management

pmo program management project management ruffin veal iii Oct 19, 2022
Step up to Program Management

Welcome to this edition of ProjectTalk. Ready for the next challenge in your career as a project management professional? Manage a program of work.

As you become more experienced managing projects, you will often be asked to manage an entire "program of work". This is usually more challenging than managing a single project, as you will have a greater budget, team and responsibilities than you had before.

So what is a Program? Well, a simple definition is that it's a group of projects. But wait– there's more! The projects in a program will have been grouped together for a reason, which is typically that they contribute to the same objectives in the business strategy.

Also, programs may include operational work within their scope, which makes them different by their very nature.

How do you do it? Here are some tips:

Review the Strategy

When kicking off your program of work, the first step is to review your company strategy and agree on the objectives that your program is responsible for delivering. This is important, as the objectives are what you use to peg your projects and ultimately programs to. If you end up creating new projects that don't contribute to your specified objectives, then they should be excluded from your program of work!

Get support

To gain the support, funds and "mind share" of your executive team, complete a Business Case. This will help you to identify the benefits and costs of running the program, the risks you foresee and what it is that you need to make it a success. It will also help you get the funding you require, as your Business Case will justify the funding needed, by stating the benefits to be realized.

Start carefully

Now that you have the funding and support from management, you're ready to kickoff. Before launching into scoping your projects—instead define your overall program of work in depth first. Create a Program Charter setting out your vision, objectives, roadmap and deliverables. Then set up a Program Office and appoint the key members of your administration team.

Selection is critical

You're now ready to define your projects and other related work. Scope out each project carefully and make sure that the benefits delivered from all of your projects combined, deliver the goals stated in your Business Case. Selecting the right projects to deliver the right benefits is critical. Make sure you categorize, evaluate, select and prioritize your projects carefully.

It's all down to execution

Now kick off your projects in a logical order. Spread your program resources (people, time and money) evenly so you don't have resource constraints. Go for quick wins first. Schedule larger projects next, once you have momentum. Never schedule critical projects to take place at the end. To retain the buy-in of your sponsor, make sure your projects deliver value early.

Control chaos

After your projects kick off, changes in the business often cause a level of chaos. Your projects change in scope, their budgets get constrained and resource shortages start occurring. How you react to these changes will determine your level of success as a Program Manager.

When this happens, step back and re-assess your program. Outside influences are often the cause and these are things that you alone can fix. Only in exceptional circumstances should you dive into the depths of the program itself and work alongside project managers and teams at the micro level. A good Program Manager will instead step back and make macro level changes to influence the success of the program.

We hope these tips help improve your program management success.

5 Goals of a Program Manager

As a Program and/or Project Manager, you need to manage people, money, suppliers, equipment - the list is never ending. As a program manager your responsibilities include strategic initiatives. You are a manager of management personnel. The trick is to be focused. Set yourself 5 personal goals to achieve. If you can meet these simple goals for each program and/or project, then you will achieve total success. 

These goals are generic to all industries and all types of programs. Regardless of your level of experience in program management, set these 5 goals for every project and program you manage.

To finish on time

This is the oldest but trickiest goal in the book. It's the most difficult because the requirements often change during the program and the schedule was probably optimistic in the first place.

To succeed, you need to manage your scope very carefully. Implement a change control process so that any changes to the scope are properly managed.

Always keep your plan up to date, recording actual vs. planned progress. Identify any deviations from plan and fix them quickly.

To finish under budget

To make sure that your program costs don't spiral, you need to set a program budget at the start to compare against. Include in this budget, all of the types of individual project costs that will accrue, whether they are to do with people, equipment, suppliers or materials. Then work out how much each task in your plan is going to cost to complete and track any deviations from this plan.

Make sure that if you over-spend on some tasks, that you under-spend on others. In this way, you can control your spend and deliver under budget.

To meet the requirements

The goal here is to meet the requirements that were set for the program at the start. Whether the requirements were to install a new IT system, build a bridge or implement new processes, your program needs to produce solutions which meet these requirements 100% according to each individual project.

The trick here is to make sure that you have a detailed enough set of requirements at the beginning. If they are ambiguous in any way, then what was initially seen as a small piece of work could become huge, taking up valuable time and resources to complete.

To keep customers happy

You could finish your program on time, under budget and have met 100% of the requirements—but still have unhappy customers. This is usually because their expectations have changed since the program started and have not been properly managed at a program as well as project level.

To ensure that your program sponsor, customer and other stakeholders are happy at the end of your program, you need to manage their expectations carefully. Make sure you always keep them properly informed of progress. "Keep it real" by giving them a crystal clear view of progress to date. Let them voice their concerns or ideas regularly. Tell them upfront when you can't deliver on time, or when a change needs to be made. Openness and honesty are always the best tools for setting customer expectations.

To ensure a happy team

If you can do all of this with a happy team, then you'll be more than willing to do it all again for the next program. And that's how your staff will feel also. Staff satisfaction is critical to your program's success.

So keep your team happy by rewarding and recognizing them for their successes. Assign them work that complements their strengths and conduct team building exercises to boost morale. With a happy motivated team, you can achieve anything!

Tip: Remember, your individual project managers comprise your management and leadership level most directly connected with the individual projects that comprise your program. Their credibility is essential to their project’s (and your program’s) success. Any questions and/or criticism of their management or leadership of their projects should be conducted on a one-on-one basis. Avoid individual criticism in group settings.

And there you have it. The 5 goals you need to set for every program.

5 Tips for Delivering Under Budget

Of the 5 goals stated above your biggest challenge and second goal (above) as a project manager and program manager is often delivering "within budget". 

If your project or program is late, then there are things you can do to bring it in on time. But if you're over budget, there are not as many options! The trick is not to be over budget in the first place.

Every program has a budget. It is one of those things that makes a "program" a program.

The challenge for a program manager is often that by the time they are assigned to a program, the budget has already been set via each individual project and the program manager does not have any real “say” in the matter. So how to can you manage your program within budget, when you have not created the budget in the first place? Here's how...

Review the Charter/Revise the Budget

A Program Charter like a Project Charter is like an architectural drawing for a building program. It tells the builder what the end result is going to look like, so the client knows what they will receive and the program manager knows what has to be delivered and by when.

It helps you to direct your team towards the end goal, so everyone is on the same page. 

Note: The Program Charter is not just a collection of the individual Project Charters. It is a distinct formal document which defines the overall goal and expectations of the associated projects and their required associated interactions to achieve program success.

As soon as you are assigned to a program, make it one of your first jobs to revise the budget set based on your review of the Program Charter. Is it sufficient, does it include contingency (if so, how much?) and does it account for the size, complexity and risk of the project? Challenge your boss immediately if you're not comfortable with the budget set and explain why you need more money if it's required. If they say "no" then at least you've raised it upfront. 

Tip: Be sure to document your budgetary concerns for post-program analysis.

Create a Financial Plan

Create a program plan and calculate the forecast cost of every task ahead. 

Tip: Use software to do this but avoid using spreadsheets as your information will quickly get out of hand.

Baseline the Plan

Then baseline your plan, which means saving a copy so that you can compare the actual expense of the program day to day, to the original plan set. Do this at the program as well as project levels.

Track Progress Daily

Then you need to calculate the total cost of the program vs. the total budget set. This should be done daily. If you use online software to do this, then you can see in a graphical dashboard a task which tells you whether you are under budget or over budget at every step in the journey. Because it's online, you can view the status of your project real-time.

Get Serious…make an executive decision

If you notice that you're consistently running over budget each week, then you may need to immediately stop and take action. This may include; informing your boss, asking for a larger budget (and justifying the reason for it) reducing the scope of the program or trimming expenses and trying to do more with less.

That’s it. Enjoy managing your programs!