The area of Program Management is still widely misunderstood. Ironically, it is as old if not older than Project Management. When the 1950’s pioneers started building Project Management models like the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), Critical Path Methods (CPM), and Program Evaluation and Review Technique, a program was almost always in mind before the project.
A program aims at achieving a benefit. So, when a governmental agency undertakes a project to encourage a paperless environment, even if the project is completed successfully, it does not mean that it was able to bring the institution closer to paperless environment. A project is always about specific deliverables, and by definition is completed when its required deliverables are complete. So, who will ensure that these deliverables are used, and that they fulfilled the business need for which it was undertaken? The project is complete, and the Project Manager is on another project. So who is doing this?
To solve the above problem, some companies are requesting a “support” period during which suppliers are operating the deliverables (whether software, processes, or resources) and ensuring they are bringing in benefits. This will help, but it is not enough. Sometimes one project is not enough to achieve benefits. You need more projects that together will help achieve the goal. Who will manage and take care of this link?
Another reason to consider a program is that an organization by design is operational, and wants to go back to its day-to-day activities. This is why many projects fail to change the organization. They do not take into account getting the organization out of its norms and stability, into embracing the change. So, when an organizational unit, or executive believes that we need to go paperless, for example, they immediately think of a project to achieve that. Change usually requires multiple related projects and someone to be accountable to for achieving the benefit, not just delivering a project. This is why even “successful” projects fail to prove value on the ground.
The answer to this is for executives and organizations to start considering programs and Program Managers to lead the benefit realization, and to spearhead such programs.
I think soon, the market will be asking for these, and the Program Manager skill will be hot in the market, and many project managers will feel the pressure of having to go beyond their ability to deliver to build a capacity to think strategically and deliver benefits just like a Program Manager would. These Program Managers will be a potent hybrid of an Executive and a Project Manager, in one person. I believe this is the Era of the Program Manager. It should be exciting.