5 Ambiguities in program management that every organization should understand

by Mustafa Hafızoglu

If an organization aims to obtain benefits that cannot be obtained by managing each of the related projects but is available by managing these projects in a coordinated manner, then programs can be defined in this organization. Although the academic and PMI definitions are so clear for program management, in the application phase program management has different meanings and hence different applications based on the industry type, project management maturity level, and executive-level perspective.

Simply put, program management should focus on benefits. Here are five ambiguities that organizations should be aware of:

 1. Managing large projects

If the scope is wide, and the budget and duration of a project is high; there’s a tendency to call this a program, not a project. This generally occurs in organizations that either has less project management maturity or in industries that misuse the term. If there are sub-projects to be managed under this large project and if there is an opportunity to gain benefit from managing these sub-projects together then we’d better call this large project a program.

2. Managing similar /related projects

Organizations tend to categorize projects and assign a program manager/director to manage these similar projects such as projects delivering hardware would be grouped together under a hardware program manager or projects delivering services would be grouped under services program manager. On the other hand, the organization does not expect or define any benefit just because of managing these similar projects together. So managing similar projects does not mean you are managing a program.

3. The role of a project manager

Program management is expected to focus on benefits delivery rather than task management and product delivery. On the other hand, program managers spend their time as a project manager focusing on tasks, teams, and product delivery. Hence, there is very little time to focus on managing benefits and following new opportunities.

4. Defining the success criteria of a program

It’s rather easy to define the success criteria of a project, that is delivery of the product/service on time, within budget, and scope. On the other hand, program success should be measured based on the delivery of the defined benefits, either defined at the beginning of the program or during the program. The benefits should not necessarily be tangible; there may be benefits that are intangible. This difficulty can lead organizations to define product/service delivery as the success criteria of a program.

5. The time / Duration of a program

Unlike projects, programs do not have a time limitation. They focus on the delivery of the benefits by managing the related projects. New projects may start, and current projects may end, but the program goes on.

Program managers should ensure that they manage their business transformation through the delivery of products and processes in order to realize the organization’s strategic benefits and objectives successfully. Program managers should act as benefits managers, demonstrate systems thinking, creating value, managing complexity, and change as well as uncertainty. Is your organization ready to have this mindset?


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