How to plan a complex program

by Francesco Pecoraro

As a program is a group of related projects, planning a complex program requires the planning of all projects that compose the program. It is important to have a process in place that helps in planning these projects. Also, it is crucial to periodically analyze each project to make the needed adjustments. Let’s see how to plan a complex program.

There are three major steps to plan a complex program:

  1. Identifying core projects
  2. Recognizing project dependencies
  3. Managing project dependencies

Identifying core projects

To plan a program, it is important to identify core projects. In the beginning, each project has to be planned without any consideration for the whole program.

To create a program plan, it is important to delegate the planning of each project to project leaders. For each project that is part of a program, it is useful to establish clear planning standards and tools. Those standards will ensure that the documents and other planning outputs can be reviewed and integrated with minimal effort.

Enforcing the use of common processes and tools can make all the difference in program success. As project planning proceeds, it is important to ensure that all projects define interfaces by using a common format.

Recognizing project dependencies

Planning each project that makes up the program will reveal project dependencies. Programs usually have projects that have lots of dependencies. Identifying all interfaces that connect each project to other projects is crucial.

There can be different types of project interfaces. For instance, let’s imagine that we have two projects that are part of the same program: project A and project B. It happens that the team of project B cannot start development work until the team of project A completes a specific deliverable. This represents a clear example of dependency between two projects. It is possible to manage dependencies effectively by using the concept of interface.

The process of identifying project interfaces starts during project planning. In fact, in the beginning, the plans for each project are not complete. To reduce this lack of clarity, program managers need to gather, in this phase, all available data for each interface.

Managing project dependencies

Once the project dependencies have been identified, they need to be documented and, most importantly, managed.

Managing project interfaces is the duty of program managers. It is almost impossible to manage project interfaces at the project level. Basically, this happens because project managers and project teams do not have enough control to manage project interfaces.

As a result, if program managers do not properly manage project interfaces, this can have a negative impact on the whole program.

Once program managers have collected all available data for each interface, they have to describe them. To accomplish this goal, program managers can use a single uniform format. Essentially, they will have a specified form to save the specifics of all interfaces. These filled forms can be used like contracts. Obtaining formal agreements encourages the people involved to pay more attention to the details.

While project planning proceeds interfaces, become clearer. Completing project interfaces helps to create a consistent program plan. To obtain such a plan, it is necessary to have iterative planning that allows change between project and program levels.

Keep in mind

Programs usually have project dependencies. Program managers have to constantly manage projects interfaces to guarantee program success. It is hard work to guarantee that all project teams remain active during the whole duration of the program.

If program managers do not properly manage project interfaces, this can have a negative impact on the whole program. To obtain program success, it is crucial to identify and manage interfaces between projects. It is also key to have an iterative process to plan projects in order to create a coherent program plan.


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