Program Management versus Project Management

The next blog posts are part of a material I'm working on, called "Project Management - A Managerial Approach". Hopefully this will end up to be a down-to-earth, Guerilla book, that eliminates fluffy theory while keeping what I found from my experience to be valuable practices. The book will cover Project Management, Program Management and Portfolio Management.

The definition of a program: The program is defined by its great extent over time and how dramatically it affects an organization. The program is actually a series of projects that can run in parallel or sequentially, with interdependencies between them. A very large and complex project is often a disguised program, and becomes very risky if not recognized and managed as a program. It is therefore important for top managers to understand the concept of a program, to allocate the right people for Program Managers and to judge whether a program is properly managed.

Program versus Project

It is important to understand the relationship between programs and projects as a program is often mistaken for a project. Inadequate management (such as a managing a program as a project) has a strong negative impact because by definition a program is aimed at large-scale transformation. Similarly, the risks are much larger for program and have a different flavor. Therefore, poor management is likely to make these risks materialize easier (see chapter 12.2 Programs’ Specific Risks). The complexity relationship between Program - Project - Phase  - Task – Deliverable is illustrated below:

ü  The program is mostly oriented at the organizational level, aimed to produce a large-scale change that often includes organizational standards and processes. In order for a program to succeed, it is necessary for several departments, suppliers or solutions components to collaborate. This is usually achieved by having the components organized in projects that must integrate. Therefore, a program must contain a component of managing human resources and communication that is given a great importance. By its dimensions, a program aims to achieve several benefits for each of the recipients of its components, so the definition, management and measurement of benefits is very important in a program;
ü  The project aims virtual team, which does not cover the entire organization and has an average scale. It has one major objective or benefit;
ü  Even a medium side project is hard to be managed a whole package, so work is divided into phases with clear deadlines (milestones) that determines the concentration of efforts towards achieving deliverables within the stated time. A phase has a common goal, which serves as an input for the next phase (e.g. the design of a new product is an input for testing on its target consumers);
ü  Tasks have a short duration and are aimed at contributing to a deliverable and usually are allocated to a single person;
ü  Deliverables are the tangible results of the activities. Examples of deliverables are: product specifications, job interview, sales force training material, training test results.
In terms of management, the major difference between a Program and a Project is explained below:

Projects that are part of a program have a different set of risks as compared to the risks typically faced by a stand-alone project. These are:
ü  Insufficient level or power to escalate issues. Often, programs require large amount of resources, or resources that are precious for the daily business. Managers will not be easily convinced to extract such resources from daily business, and only a convincing speech of a senior manager will convince the executive level of the opportunity of such a resource allocation. The Program Manager must be then able to express their arguments in front of the executive managers, including talking competently about figures, future profits, and why the effort of the organization is beneficial in the medium and long term. Therefore, a Program Manager must be in fact a senior manager with the power to influence the organization and obtain the necessary resources for program success. Failure to earn resources for a component of the program will have an impact on other components, so the Program Manager needs to be able to prioritize, and a get the resources with the most beneficial impact from a limited set of resources.
ü  Resistance to deep organizational changes. More than implementing a solution, a process, a program will require changing how a company works, how people think, the values ​​and the company culture. The deeper the targeted change, the greater the resistance, which will channel towards the rejection of the program deliverables. For instance, when implementing an ERP solution, the employees will be required to introduce all the bills in real time, every day, to keep track of inventory. Senior management will be able to see if this not respected by using ad-hoc reports. It is understandable that the ERP solution will become subject to criticism, justified or not, and senior management will have to convince employees of the utility of the system, that their work will be easier if they respect this discipline, and to reward additional efforts of those who will embrace change.
ü  Redundant efforts. A Program Manager’s role is to identify projects that may need the same deliverables and put some effort to optimize the reuse of components. Being a large-scale effort, this optimization has a great impact on the program and its deficiency can lead to delays in the chain of projects.
ü  Aggressive timeline that leads to parallelization of many activities that would otherwise have been made sequentially. This leads in turn to rework on deliverables that represents wasted efforts. Business reality requires aggressive deadlines for any project or program. Therefore, the Program Manager decides to start work on a set of assumptions and incomplete deliverables, and if they will prove to be inaccurate, to revisit the deliverables for adjustment.
ü  Cultural differences between team members. If a program in a multinational, global companies, the team is very often virtual, with members from different nationalities. Such approaches are very modern and very often practiced, though not always with the right attitude. In this case, it is important the tools that will be used for communication and how communication is formalized, managing cultural differences, time zone, language and lack of face to face interaction. The Program Manager must practice tolerance, empathy and flexibility to achieve optimal results.

Program management versus portfolio management: The portfolio is a suite of projects without dependencies between them, while the program is a series of projects with dependencies between them. An example of a portfolio is a suite of projects to various clients of a service company. An example of a program is implementing core business system (e.g. an ERP).

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