Choosing the Right Program Manager

In this post, we presented the need for the Program Manager to actually be a senior manager, able to influence and manage the inherent complexity of a program. However, adding a new “hat” for a person in the company's operational management is not a good solution. For example, it is not recommended to appoint the IT head of a company's department as Program Manager for ERP implementation, for several reasons:

1. Program Management is a full time job, and it often requires work overtime. Add this to the daily duties of Chief of Department and you have the recipe that at least one of the two objectives will suffer. Unfortunately, most often the program is the one being compromised, which means that while daily operations are still going well, but the strategic objectives of the company, medium and long term, suffer or even are abandoned.

2. A department director and program manager have conflicting interests. The program manager must provide and support the change, while the Department Director may be interested in maintaining the status quo for carrying out daily activities easily. Again, the second interest of the two will succeed, which means sacrificing the interests of medium and long term for the comfort of the moment.

3. As the Project Management, Program Management is a profession in its own right, with a Body of Knowledge that has emerged as an International Standard that requires specialized studies necessary for being productive and not reinventing the wheel.

However, from the three constraints expressed, the third is the weakest. It is possible for the managerial skills of a director to be transferred in a relatively short time towards running a successful program.
So where to find the right Program Manager?

1. The easiest way, if the organization permits, is the recruitment of the Program Manager from the Project Management Office. If you already have experienced and successful Program Managers, the subject no longer needs to be discussed here. Even a Project Manager with experience and potential can be a good solution.

2. If you do not have / want the establishment of new structures such as the Project Management Office, you can still recruit the Program Manager from Middle Management. It is then required to release him/her from other operational duties and allow him to report directly to the executive management, such as C-level or vice-president. This is to make sure that when the program has conflicting interests with those of the functional manager, the Program Manager has access to the highest level for decisions that are in the strategic interest of the company.

3. An external Program Manager, contract based, for which you can collect references on, is also an approach that will lead to success. We emphasize the word references, since the professions of Project and Program Manager are very attractive; there is a risk to be overwhelmed by a large number of candidates and to find it difficult to choose and even to make a wrong choice. The advantage is that an external Program Manager will have an objective opinion on what goes wrong in your organization. In addition, it will be a professional Project or Program Manager, and you will not need to train him or to wait long to get 100% productivity from him.

4. In terms of soft skills, you have to look after a Program Manager who knows how to manage both horizontal and upward. He or she should not be intimidated in front of a board of directors that are starring at him, should be able to support their recommendations in front of a vicepresident and should be able to summarize a problem in a few words and make a recommendation for the solution.

5. In terms of business knowledge, look for a Program Manager that understands business objectives, is creative in finding alternative solutions to achieve them, and is able to support its business case in front of the directors, including using future profit figures,

A good program manager is hard to find. Therefore, it may be easier to train a person with potential from within the organization than to identify a person with all these features. However, once identified or developed, consider such a person as a key employee of the company to support future initiatives.

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