What is the difference between a project and a program? How is managing multiple projects different from managing a program? Read our comprehensive guide on program management and find out!
This article will be useful for those, who:
• need a more strategic approach to manage multiple projects simultaneously
• plan to develop or scale a product with a lot of components
• have to prepare a complex product within a specified timeframe, unspecified processes, and a lot of people involved
What is program management?
The terms “program management” and “project management” shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Program management is a structured and strategic approach to managing multiple related projects. Its goal is to drive more benefits than when individually managing the program components. Program management aims at satisfying strategic company goals rather than a specific goal, which is the case in project management.
What needs to be said loud and clear is that the program management framework is complementary to the project management framework. However, thanks to the additional tools and processes it allows to treat multiple projects as one entity and effectively manage the available resources.
The focus areas of project management:
• Risk management
• Performance management
• Stakeholder management
• Organizational change management
• Communication management and governance
What is a program?
The common part of all approaches to programs is that they’re always larger than projects. Even though the definition of a program varies between companies, the core of it is to meet strategic company goals. The projects within a program are connected by having a common e.g. client. There are two, equally good ways of creating a program. One is to plan it along with the start of developing the product and add the connected projects to it. The other idea is that a program grows out of a project that is already in progress.
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), “A program is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated manner to realize benefits not available from managing them individually. Program management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet program requirements.”.
The role of a program manager
We would like to describe the responsibilities of a program manager by comparing them to the project manager’s scope of work. The program manager oversees multiple projects that are connected by having a common client, codebase, etc., and manages the work of project managers.
The program manager takes care of program strategy and vision, and the delivery of his program. This leads us to an important difference – a program manager thinks about future goals whereas a project manager thinks about current goals and constraints. While managing a program requires allocating program resources, managing a project is more about team performance. Last but not least, a program manager is responsible for the integration of projects, as opposed to a project manager, who usually works on the integration of one project.
Creating a program approach
How to build a successful program? Mixing classical and agile management techniques is one of the solutions to consider. It involves taking the feedback loops and quick releases from agile and keeping the schedule predictability and budget of classical techniques. How to make it work? Let’s see the steps, leading to success.
Define your goals and benefits
A program strategy that includes the vision, scope, minimum objectives, budget estimation, resource management, and benefits needs to be developed by stakeholders and executives. Then, the program manager comes to play. His role in the first step is to identify e.g. program contributors, project dependencies, and technical requirements.
Collect customer requirements
Here, you concentrate on understanding the client’s needs and expectations, and constraints which form the program requirements. Thanks to this, you can form the program scope.
Choose the framework
After collecting the client’s requirements it’s time to choose the framework. The role of a program manager is not only to select a framework matching the client’s needs but also to adjust program processes to it. You can choose from Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Scrum@Scale framework, and Nexus framework. What if there’s no framework matching the client’s needs? An experienced program manager can provide you with a custom approach, based on the existing ones.
The key here is the efficient distribution of the entire scope of work across program streams. At this stage, the program manager cooperates with a business analyst and a solution architect.
Due to the nature of program management (ongoing, meeting strategic company goals), the teams can be split into a project team and a design team. The project team concentrates on reporting and current goals while the design team is occupied with future goals. The result of the project’s team work is status “DONE”, whereas the design team takes care of the requests and interacts with stakeholders.
Just like managing a program is different from managing projects, the documentation needed in a program varies from the one needed in a project. A program concentrates more on road mapping and resource planning than a project. Also, emphasis is placed on strategy, communication with stakeholders, and the RAID log (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, and Dependencies log).
The documentation that helps build a full picture of a program consists of:
• Program strategy (program charter) – its aim is to present the idea, scope, and result of the program
• Program RACI matrix – to define the roles and responsibilities
• Communication plan
• Program RAID – for the program manager to log, document or track the risks, assumptions, and dependencies
• Resource allocation and budget
• Program roadmap
Tips for successful program management
Have a look at what practices to implement to increase the probability of a program management success.
Eliminate vertical management in the team
In order to succeed here, decentralize the program. As each project manager has their own priorities, the only interaction with other projects is necessary e.g. when they go to release some feature. Program management tools should be used only when there are complex milestones to reach or there is an intersection of teams. Thanks to this, each team has the ability to deliver without depending on the central office, and it speeds processes up.
Improve release management
It boils down to three, equally important things:
• Separating the release manager role. This person is tasked with ensuring the accuracy of the development team.
• Using release calendars. Their function is to show the scheduled tasks by releases, with dates and progress bars.
• Developing on cadence, releasing on demand. The team should know when a release is happening – and it is up to them what is included in the release and what isn’t.
Focus on dependency management
Encouraging communication between project managers will help you avoid a situation where a program manager is swamped with all the tasks. The program manager should act as a facilitator and a decision-maker only in conflict situations.
Establish a program management office (PgMO)
The complexity and scope of programs call for creating a centralized responsible entity: the program management office (PgMO). As a rule of thumb, the PgMO has several members. PgMOs are critical to ensuring that a program is put on the right path when failure happens.
Well-organized program management helps your organization meet its strategic goals and be future-oriented. It also aims at driving more benefits than individual management of the program components. A professional program manager will help your company reorganize its processes and build a well-thought-out structure.
If you’d like to have your projects organized and taken care of by professionals, we’re here for you! Just drop us a short message at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s schedule a meeting! With many simultaneously ongoing projects, we know how to properly allocate resources, and time to make things happen.