Program and Project Management


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Program Management Facilitates Success

An organization that can learn, change, and adapt rapidly is destined for success. Unfortunately, many organizations today exist in a state of chaos, meaning learning, changing, and adapting are not the norm. These companies exist in this dysfunctional, reactive state because they do not have an effective program management structure in place. Without great program management, no business can readily adapt to changing business conditions. However, truly great program managers turn this chaos into clarity by creating a culture that facilitates success.

Program and Project Management Roles – What’s the difference?

The role of the program manager is very different from the role of the project manager. The role of the program manager is very complex; from managing multiple projects to managing multiple projects with operational responsibilities in addition to being accountable for profit or cost targets linked to business strategy. Conversely, the project manager’s role is to deliver the project within the cost and schedule constraints that are usually established at the program level.

The program manager is also frequently accountable for the policy that defines how the work is accomplished. Even when a project management office (PMO) establishes company wide or organization wide policy with regard to project management, the program manager often plays a significant role, since this policy directly affects their ability to meet cost targets and business objectives.

In addition to making sure the company meets program objectives, a program manager must establish a culture that allows their project managers to be successful. The program manager must create, manage, and continually improve a culture that enables successful projects. A program manager is first and foremost a leader. In fact, the program manager’s main leadership duty is to turn chaos into clarity for the team.

People need clear direction and circumstances that allow them to be successful. The program manager must establish such direction both within and outside the organization through a variety of means. Additionally, the program manager may have to accept calculated risk when they are unable to obtain clarity from the organization and then define clarity in their own terms. Accepting chaos, allowing chaos to exist, and passing down chaos all signal a lack of integrity, and this does not create a culture conducive to successful projects.

The primary difference between a program manager and a project manager can be summed up in the words create and comply. The program manager is responsible for creating the business environment culture with which the project manager complies, through direct authority or organizational influence they are responsible for establishing the framework in which a project manager operates.

The project manager ultimately is judged on the triple constraint of the time, cost, and scope of the project. The program manager also is judged on these three elements, but at a level that is cumulative for all the projects and operations within the program. This aggregation of responsibilities for a variety of projects and operations means that the program manager must make frequent trade-offs between business targets and project and/or operational performance.

Program management decisions are both tactical and strategic in nature. The strategy aspects of these decisions require consideration of multidimensional impacts beyond the near-term delivery dates of the project. Typically, the project manager is and should be more focused on delivery and execution, whereas the program manager also has to be concerned with the overall health and effectiveness of the program over the long term.

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“The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management, Second Edition” by James T. Brown is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. ©2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Purchase the book on Amazon.