Schedule Games Affect Your Ability to Manage Programs

Months ago, Debbie asked this question, “Do you have any comparative analysis on the disciplines (project management and program management) that you would like to share?”

To me, program management is the ability to take a project or a series of projects and manage those (see Program Management: Multiple Projects With Multiple Deliverables) in the context of an entire organization. Not a trivial task. When I work as a program manager, I find that I the work tends to revolve around seeing the status of each project or set of deliverables. If I keep in mind the variety of schedule games, I'm much more likely to be able to ask questions that help me and the other people see their true state. For example, when a project manager tells me the project is 90% done, I ask “What did you see or hear that leads you to that conclusion?” If the PM says that everyone is 90% done, but doesn't talk about deliverables or interim milestones or is working in some way that leads me to believe the project really is 90% done, I know I have some work to do. The work lies in two places: determining the true state and helping the PM and the project team see the state. Not trivial work.

So, Debbie, it's not that I can give you comparative analysis on the two disciplines. If you work in a sufficiently large organization, where you are part of a team that manages multiple deliverables, or if you manage multiple deliverables, you need program management. Just managing a project isn't enough. Too many other people have deliverables that are affected by your — or your deliverables affect their ability to complete your work.

I'm not sure that schedule games are the biggest problem for program managers, but they are at least one of the biggest. Remember, when a project or program is late, it affects the organization's ability to manage the project portfolio (the sequencing of which work will be done when by whom). If you're a PM or a program manager, make sure you're watching out for schedule games. Otherwise, you'll feel as if the project or program is managing you.

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