A Little More About Program Management

Glen Alleman has a post about program management, Managing Multiple Projects is Called Program Management which got me thinking. (I’ve written about program management in the past also: Program Management: Multiple Projects With Multiple Deliverables.)

But in the portfolio management book, I defined a few ways to think about your projects as programs:

  1. You, and two other colleagues are managing projects that have interdependencies. In fact, you don’t have a product unless all three of you release at the same time. That’s a program and you need to treat it as such.
  2. You are managing a bunch of checklist projects (you’ve done similar things in the past, and the risk is not in the project, the risk is in just finishing the work), but when you’ve done all of them, the company gains some sort of strategic advantage.
  3. You are phasing releases of a product. That is, you’re working on release 3.2, then 3.3, then 3.4, and eventually 4.0. A program manager can manage the interdependencies among the releases, and a project manager would manage each release.

It’s the strategic part of “we don’t have success unless we all have success” that makes these examples programs.

BTW, I disagree with the difference between project and program managers that Glen quotes from the PMI Portfolio Management Guide. The same table (with the addition of portfolio management) is in the PMI’s Standard for Portfolio Management. IMNHO, a useless book.

Great project managers act like program managers in the table Glen quoted. But it’s worth thinking about program management, collecting related projects or project-like activities to fulfill a common strategic goal.

3 Replies to “A Little More About Program Management”

  1. I am bit confused. But more on the philosophical level – not on the practical level 🙂
    Isn’t the term “checklist project” an oxymoron?
    I always thought that the essence (in the sense Aristotle used that term) of a “project” is to do something or create something that has not been done or created before in a given time (defined by a start and end date)?
    So maybe the definition of the term “Program” needs to be extended to also allow activities that are not projects – I don’t know where that thought might lead to, if it leads to anything at all – I just felt like commenting because I really like your blog and thought that it is high time to say that 🙂

  2. I believe that managing multiple “related” projects is, in fact, a program, and can be managed as such, whether the projects are simultaneous or not. Program management often extends past the end of projects to include ongoing maintenance and support, and sometimes marketing, of the product or service developed by the project(s). Where I part company with some of the above is that managing multiple unrelated projects is not program management. It is merely multi-tasking or context switching and can drive a project manager up the wall.

  3. Johanna, great discussion thread…
    It may be that the definition of Program Management and Project Management have situational definitions. Parsing these too finely may move us backward. At an defense contractor there are rarely things called “projects.” Prorgams are their management process. At an insurance company, a Prorgam is likely several parallel projects to get the claims processing system up and running. “Check List” projects may appear if it is a repeat – say “yet another assessment of customer service.”
    If you switch to a Deliverables and Outcome based discussion – I think it becomes clearer.
    When there is a single stream that produces the end delieverables and outcomes – call that a project. Installing and deploying an document management system is one of my current “projects.”
    When there are true parallel and independent streams that’s usually called a Prorgam. Building the avionics suite for a manned spaceflight craft woudl be called a Program, with 8 independent subsystems that get integrated by the prime contractor in far away Florida.
    In the end, the successes we had come by focusing on deliverables and measureable outcomes to the customer, be they business or operational (defense).

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