Program management is not just about managing big projects. Putting together a program and keeping the balance between all the component parts takes a different set of skills to those of managing a project. Here are 9 skills that program managers should have, which we have adapted from Michel Thiry’s book, Program Management.
1. How To Make Decisions
Strategic decision-making is a core skill for the program manager. Your focus is on the overall Program and ensuring that achieves its goals, so you may have to take difficult decisions at a strategic level.
2. How To Manage Pace
Programs are typically longer than projects. You don’t want your team to burn out. Keeping sight of the end goal is the aim with much of program management, but if it is very far away you want to manage the workload so that you deliver a mix of quick wins and more strategic progress towards your objectives.
3. How To Manage Value
Programs deliver business value – and if they don’t, you shouldn’t be doing them. Value management isn’t something that many project managers have to do. At a project level, the focus tends to be on managing scope, and if the scope is right, the value delivers itself. However, at a program level, you need to be sure that overall there is still value to be had from the program’s objectives.
4. How To Manage Resources
Managing resources to cope with the flexible needs of a program over time is a core skill. Use an enterprise project management tool, which can help with planning at a program level too. Program managers also need to ensure the available team members are skilled in the right things at the right time, so you may need to plan and implement a training program too, especially if you are using new tools.
5. How To Cope With Uncertainty
A project may have a defined beginning, middle and an end, but programs rarely do. Instead, you have a vision of what the company will look like when the transition is complete. The program manager’s job is to manage and deal with the uncertainty that comes from not knowing exactly how you will get there. You’ll also have to support other team members dealing with this as they may not have experience of working in a fluid, undefined environment, and that can be uncomfortable.
6. How To Communicate Effectively
On a program with a long duration, communications are even more important than on a project. You have to ensure that messages are consistent across several initiatives and the business as usual work. Keeping on top of all the communication channels can be a constant challenge, so tap into the software tools you have on hand to log and manage all past and future communication ‘moments’.
7. How To Manage Benefits
As well as delivering organizational value, programs also deliver distinct benefits from their projects. These should be planned, tracked and managed so you can keep an eye on the overall benefits being delivered by the program. It’s sometimes difficult to work out how to measure benefits, so work with all the project managers in the team to establish clear ways of benefits tracking for every project.
8. How To Manage Third Party Suppliers
Project managers do this too, but at a project level it is more about straightforward procurement. On a program you are potentially building partnership relationships that will endure – perhaps even past the end of the program. Projects that complete early in the program lifecycle will move into a business as usual phase. While the program continues you will need to ensure that ongoing relationships forged during the project are still managed effectively. Get some help from your procurement team or a contract negotiation partner if you think that would be beneficial.
9. How To Manage Stakeholders
Project managers manage stakeholders as well, but at a program level it is even more important for these relationships to be effective. Program stakeholders tend to be at a more senior level, and perhaps with a more strategic outlook to those individuals participating in projects. If you have moved to program management from a project manager role, you’ll already have a good grounding in how to engage stakeholders and work with them effectively to deliver successfully. Carry these skills with you to program management. If you have come directly to program management, then you are likely to have had some experience in an operational role and this will also have provided you with the opportunity to polish your stakeholder skills.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. What else do you believe is imperative for the successful program manager to know?