program manager

What is a program manager?

As organizations grow, there are several management levels or hierarchies introduced to ensure that different teams and initiatives are in sync with each other. Some of the common management roles that can be found in these organizations are project lead, project manager, program manager, portfolio manager, etc.

This article analyzes what these roles are meant for and how they work in tandem with each other to contribute to the success of the organizational initiatives.

A program manager is someone who has a stake in multiple initiatives at the same time. While they may not be responsible for managing the daily operations related to a project, they are definitely responsible for the overall success of the projects under their umbrella. These projects are usually related to each other – with an overarching strategic focus on improving an aspect of the organization’s business. While some projects may be related to systems engineering, the other projects may be related to strategies such as go-to-market initiatives, change management, business process transformation etc.

What are the responsibilities of a project manager?

A project manager, on the other hand, is typically responsible for achieving the specific objectives tied to a project. They are deeply involved in the operational activities associated with a project, for example – resourcing, budgeting, tracking the project progress and resolving execution related issues. Some examples of project managers are software project managers, construction project managers, etc. For example – a software project manager is someone who apart from being familiar software development lifecycle and methodologies, may also have a prior software development background and is also expected to be proficient with project planning and tracking tools.

Program manager vs. portfolio manager:

A program manager is responsible for the big picture – ensuring that the output from the program under his purview is greater than the sum of its parts (projects). While a project manager has specific deadlines to meet, a program manager is in for a longer haul – with some components of the program taking shape only after others are in place. Program management can also be interpreted as portfolio management. It’s about selecting projects, broadening or narrowing their scope, adjusting their duration or timing to maximize the value from the combined sum total.

Measuring success.

It must be clear to you by now that while a project is more delivery and timeline oriented undertaking, a program can be more fluid in scope and timelines. Therefore, measuring the success of a program needs different metrics than a project. For a project, the typical measurements of success are timeliness, budget adherence, quality. A program, on the other hand, can be measured through metrics such as delivery (how well the individual components/projects were executed), program organizational capability (how well were the related projects integrated or aligned to contribute to the overall program success), risk management (how the changes in one projects were managed to minimize the risk on the entire program), go-to-market timeliness (how quickly could the program be ready to be launched into the market and add to the organizational bottomline) and effective change management.

In conclusion, delivering a project on time, within budget and with quality – while important – may not ensure the success of a program. There are several factors that need to be looked at strategically to ensure the overall success of an initiative and a program manager is responsible for that.

Photo Credit: edited from “looking” / Little Birth / CC BY

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