© 1999 Johanna Rothman
To ensure a successful product in the marketplace, an organization must bring all the company's functions together: Product development and testing, marketing, training, customer support, sales, etc. The manager who organizes and schedules the intra-company tasks is frequently called the program manager. One of my clients refers to program management as “grease and glue”: grease to ease the way for different parts of the company to succeed, and glue to bring everything together.
A project is a one-time occurrence to ship a version of a product. This can be an “internal” shipment – such as a tool, or a common component. A program starts at the beginning of a product's lifetime, and continues through product retirement. In small organizations, you may not need a separate program manager; one of the other project-oriented managers can take on the tasks. I have found program management indispensable when the company grows to be over 100 people.
Here are some guidelines for successful program management:
- Define and publish this project's goals. Every product has a specific place in the company's product line. Each project (product release) has a specific reason for existence. A release has to accomplish its goals, or the product cannot accomplish its corporate goals, and the company will not get the benefit from the project. Your role as a program manager is to make sure everyone knows those goals, and is working towards them.
- Manage the program to the goals. Define criteria to help you measure when you've met those goals. You can continually check those criteria against the state of the program, to see when you can expect to meet those goals. The cross-functional program team needs to understand how those goals affect each of them, and what they have to do to accomplish those goals.
- Publish program information widely. In my experience, the more all the employees know about the program's goals and milestones, the easier it will be to meet those goals and milestones. I like to post program milestones and goals in a public place, such as a corporate database, or a bulleting board in the lunch room.
- Solve contained problems outside of meetings. Program team meetings are not generally the place to decide how to solve a particular problem between two functional groups. (This is an example of the generic group meeting principle: no one-on-ones between two people, see page 1). It is frequently more effective for the people in those two groups to figure out what their problem is, and what the solution should be. Reserve program team time to solve problems across the entire cross-functional team.
- Hold periodic program team meetings. The cross-functional team needs to know how to work together, and periodic, regular team meetings helps them figure this out. Regular meetings also help the program manager monitor actual progress. If some people start rolling their eyes whenever one team member talks, you have a problem.
Program management is fun, and is a logical next step for experienced project managers who want to manage the total effort for a particular product.
Tags: program management