PgMP® The Next Step?

10 September, 2013

Program management

When you accept that American is a different language, it really does have some worthy features. All plurals end in “s” or “es”, so we no longer have to remember Latin grammar rules (neuter plurals end in “a”) or French conventions (bureaux). The “u” key on the American keyboard gets less wear (labor, behavior, flavor) and, even the Oxford Dictionary reckons we should use “ize” instead of “ise”, making “organization” a legitimate spelling in English.

So far so good. However, technology has forced American spelling upon us – the computer program and the hard disk being the best examples and, while we have consoled ourselves that television still broadcasts programmes, as Project Management Professionals (PMPs®) we are still confronted with the concept of an American spelled Program Manager. But what are programs and why must they be managed?

We are familiar with projects – temporary endeavours producing unique products or services – and operations – the day-to-day running of the place – from the days of our PMP® exam, but what are programs? Essentially they are combinations of projects and other work that make more sense being managed together than managed independently. The textbook example would be a military campaign, where the different branches of the armed forces are managed together to provide optimal results. As well as getting the benefits of the army, air force and navy, economies and efficiencies can be obtained in terms of logistics and purchasing.

When you think about it, we Project Managers are lucky. A sponsor comes to us and requests that we get a body of work done, in a given timeframe and with a limited set of resources. While it might not be any fun trying to juggle these constraints and get a reasonable result at the end of the day, at least we do not have to agonize over the significance of the project or have to justify its existence. At the program and portfolio levels, managers do.

The directors of an organization manage what is called a portfolio. This is basically all the work the organization does. It’s analogous to a share portfolio, where an investor might invest in an assortment of high and low risk companies, spanning a wide range of industries. The hope is that a weak share-holding will be balanced out by a strong showing elsewhere in the portfolio. This is precisely what organizations do. Factories usually produce a range of product lines so that a fall off in sales in one can be made up for in another. Large conglomerates might actually have a portfolio of companies across industries for the same reason.

An organization’s portfolio comprises programs, projects and operations. The board of directors must decide what work to do and these choices are informed by the organization’s vision – where it wants to be. To get to this position requires work and the organization’s mission statement summarizes the strategy that will be employed. The strategy is then executed through programs, projects and operations. These people must decide what they need to do, where they will find the funding and resources to do it and, most importantly, what benefits will the work accrue to the organization.

For a Program Manager, benefits identification and delivery are key parts of the role. The Program Manager must also compare these benefits with corporate strategy and define a program (of projects & other work) that will provide the necessary benefits and fit in with the corporate strategy. The program needs to be constantly monitored to ensure strategy alignment. For instance, a medical device company might initiate a program to upgrade its entire range of products to use a new technology. However, during this upgrading program, the regulatory bodies update one of their standards and it is decided to include revisions to make all products standards-compliant as well. This change to the program’s charter is a sensible one because the organization wants to be a presence in the medical device market and it is not allowed to sell its products unless they are standards-compliant.

Another area where program management differs from project management is in the concern for transitioning projects on into operations. For instance, an urban renewal program might involve building housing in disadvantaged areas. However, dumping lots of poor families into blocks of flats (constructed by the lowest bidder) is not going to provide the benefits of a thriving new community unless actions are taken to ensure the new occupants are settled in properly and made aware of their responsibilities for the upkeep of their new homes and the adjoining neighbourhood.

The program management team, which might be part of a Program Management Office, needs to commission programs that offer useful efficiencies over the creation of a series of unrelated projects. So, for instance, an energy company could embark on a program to install wind farms throughout the country. Each farm would be a separate construction project, but the applications for planning permission, the media campaign to alleviate environmental concerns and the purchasing of the turbine equipment can benefit from a centralized approach. The Program Manager can provide common solutions to all the projects and they, in turn, can tailor them to suit the individual sites. For example, a program-wide media information pack can be tailored to suit the concerns of a particular, local group of environmentalists.

Just as a Program Manager may be the sponsor for your project, the Program Manager needs to get higher-level approval before embarking on a new program (or altering an existing one). All programs are subject to governance. This might trade under a variety of names, but is usually called a Program Governance Board. These people approve the program and provide oversight throughout its lifecycle. They establish the success criteria and how these will be measured. They set the quality standards and conduct periodic health checks to ensure that the program is proceeding satisfactorily. They also hold phase-gate reviews and can kill the program if the expected benefits no longer align with the corporate strategy.

Remember the project management process groups from your PMP® preparation days? Well, the concepts of initiation, planning, execution, monitoring & control and closing are still relevant at the program level. However, here a different life cycle is given. There are three overall phases: Program Definition, Program Benefits Delivery and Program Closure. These is turn are divided up into sub-phases. Program Definition becomes Program Formulation (corresponding to Initiation and finishing when the Program Charter is approved) and Program Preparation (corresponding to Planning and closing with approval of the Program Management Plan). The Program Benefits Delivery phase is where the individual components of the program (projects, operations and other work) are initiated, planned, executed, controlled and closed. This breaks down into Component Initiation and Authorization (initiating and planning), Component Oversight and Integration (execution and monitor & control) and Component Transition and Closure (ensuring that the benefits from the component continue to be realized after the component is complete and closing the component in an orderly fashion). Finally, Program Closure divides into Program Transition and Program Closeout, reflecting the importance of transition at the program level.

Of course, during the program’s life cycle all your PMP® knowledge can be applied. The Knowledge Areas support the program management task, with Stakeholder Engagement being given particular prominence.

If you are the sort of person who enjoys seeing the bigger picture and wants to have a higher-level of control over the projects you manage, program management might be just the thing for you. The Project Management Institute (PMI®) offers an accreditation called the Program Management Professional (PgMP®). It involves another four hour exam, but this one has “only” 170 questions. While there are nearly half a million PMPs® out there, there are fewer than 1,000 PgMPs® worldwide, so this accreditation will certainly make you stand out from the herd.

- By Velopi Seamus Collins

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