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Driving Project Value with Program Management

Author by Nick Rustad

Program Management v. Project Management 

One may think that these roles are similar, but I assure you, they are quite different. Project management involves managing tasks, resources, project time lines while a program manager is managing the interoperability of related projects with a focus on overall strategic direction. 

If you have more than 2-3 projects that are related and running concurrently or sequentially, you may wish to initiate a program.  Program Management pulls together a control mechanism to do the following: 

  • Monitor for the task and resource conflict between projects 

  • Find and share value across projects 

  • Holistically observe budget and adjust if needed by project 

  • Provide a complete status of milestones to business strategy 


Pictures Bring Your Program to Life 

Recently, we completed a large program for a company going through a divestiture.  Concurrency was tasked to run the program and focus resources on the technology separation.  In simple terms, we took part of IT from one company and stuck it in another.    By engaging Concurrency with Program Management, we were able to successfully monitor for project conflict, balanced resources, budget overruns, and provide clear executive status.  For a Program of this size, it was critical to ensure that the different aspects did not go into conflict.  For example, if facilities planned to move an office during a technology migration, we also ensured alignment with other activities to avoid additional and unnecessary end user impact. 

One way to achieve alignment is through an overall time line, detailing program activities by project.  This is also useful when showing potentially unavoidable situations, for example contact negotiation delays.  We used this method to relay potential cross program scheduling conflicts, and how to adjust in flight.  By having a visual, not only does it help the team know the goal, but it helps to frame the conversation during a status meeting.  It is critical to have visuals during the program to ensure your audience is aware of goals and potential pitfalls.   



Sample Program Time line 


Where is the value? 

There are many ways a Program Manager can add value to your organization.  First, keeping the strategic vision of the organization in alignment with project work is a no-brainier.  But then if you also focus on finding value across projects and ensuring that the value being derived is also transferred to other projects, you will realize greater value.  For example, if a project in your program is exceeding expectations, meeting time lines, and delivering quality, inspect the process and find out the “why”.  Why is this project so much better than the others?   Find the value, and then capitalize on it!  Share the learnings from this project with other projects within your organization.  By improving all project work, across the organization, you will discover true value driven goals.   

Top 5 Program Management Mistakes 

Program Management sounds like a simple concept.  Sure, a program manager is not managing tasks and project resources on a day to day basis, but there are many pitfalls that can occur if the right level of work is not completed with precision. 

1. Know Your Audience 

Who, what, and when you share an overall status on your program is crucial to drive the business value.  Far too often, I have witnessed companies not understand the value of Program Management, they drive far too deep into the details, and miss the overall vision.  Program Management is not Project Management.  Make sure to stay on top of the overall project work and watch the progress to goal of the Program.  

2. Know Your Team 

You are not immune from managing people in a Program Manager role.  True, you may not have direct reports, but you are also responsible for all the people working on your program.  You need to get to know them.  Be visible.  Many clients I have worked with over the years stick their Program Manager in a back room to crunch numbers, get out of the room and into the team!  Share ideas and goals with the team so everyone feels informed and also part of the decision-making process.   

3. Trust Your People 

You need people to tell you, openly, and honestly, if there is a problem.  If you do not trust your people, they will sense the mistrust, and will not trust you.  It is that simple!  Will you be open and honest with someone you do not trust?  We can all fall into the trap of mistrust, and then when a co-worker does something to validate the mistrust, we have reinforced our behavior.  Step out of that trap! 

4. Be Strategic 

Do not let yourself be consumed by the day to day project drama.  Instead, look for patterns, sense the well-being of the team, and continue to push for success, no matter how small.  Keep relaying the overall vision of the program to the team and leadership. 

5. Not All Status Reports are Created Equal 

Sure, we all need status reports.  What is a status report?  A status report at the program level, needs to convey the same information you should be sharing with the team and leadership.  It needs to be simple yet comprehensive.   Use pictures and simple sentences to relay your message.  Numbers will always win, especially the total amount of work and current position to goal. 

If you are not seeing the value of projects within your organization, contact Concurrency to find out why.   We may bundle projects into a program to truly drive the most value. 


Nick Rustad

Nicholas Rustad, MBA