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Introduction to Program Management – How to Manage Related Projects

By: Hajime Estanislao, PMP, CSM

Are you feeling overwhelmed by managing multiple projects that seem misaligned and inefficient? Does achieving strategic synergy across various initiatives seem like an uphill battle?

Imagine a scenario where all your projects run smoothly and consistently support and enhance your organization’s strategic objectives. Program Management, as defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI), provides a structured approach to managing a group of related projects that, when executed individually, might not deliver the same level of impact.

With Program Management, you harness the power to manage and strategically align your programs and projects to achieve collective benefits. Through expert knowledge, tools, and techniques tailored to rigorous program requirements and business cases, this approach optimizes resource use, ensures cost-effective organizational change, and solidifies strategic alignment across all project activities.

Ready to transform how your projects contribute to your organizational goals? Step up your Program Management skills and see your projects through a new lens of strategic planning, alignment, and enhanced efficiency. Start by assessing your current project management practices today and pave the way for integrated success. Embrace the shift—lead with strategic alignment and create and deliver value through program management.

What is Program Management?

Program Management, as defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI), involves coordinating and managing related projects. These projects are managed together to achieve better benefits than if they were managed individually. This approach is relevant for organizations aiming to optimize their resources and achieve significant improvements in performance through collective impact.

Key facets include applied knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet specific program requirements. It plays a role in facilitating timely and cost-effective organizational change, ensuring that all program activities align with the organizational strategic goals. Effective program management is central to using organizational resources and aligning aspects of a program with strategic objectives. It shows the core to the success of program management practices in its overall performance and is its ability to achieve longer strategic goals. The roles, responsibilities, and skills required for program management vary depending on the initiative and the stage of the program lifecycle, highlighting the changing nature.

How do Programs Relate to Projects and Portfolios?

Programs, projects, and portfolios represent different levels of the organization’s project management structure, each with a specific focus and scope but interconnected to achieve strategic goals.

Projects are individual efforts that produce specific outputs or deliverables within a defined time frame. 

Programs are collections of related projects managed in coordination to gain benefits that wouldn’t be possible if these were done separately. This management ensures that the projects within a program are aligned and that their combined outcomes project deliverables of strategic value.

At the highest level, a portfolio encompasses all the projects and programs within an organization, grouped to facilitate effective management toward achieving strategic business objectives. 

Unlike projects and programs concerned with specific outputs and tactical benefits, portfolios focus on the big picture – organizational priorities and strategic alignment. They help in the decision-making process relating to project and program prioritization, ensure resource allocation aligns with the business strategy and goals, and adjust strategies as market or organizational conditions change. By effectively managing the relationships and dependencies between projects and programs, portfolios ensure that the organization’s overarching objectives are met.

The Principles of Program Management

Program management is a strategic approach involving the coordinated management of multiple projects to achieve broader organizational objectives. It is a discipline that integrates various principles to ensure that programs are managed effectively and align closely with strategic goals. These principles, including stakeholder engagement and benefits realization, form the strong leadership and backbone of successful program management.

They ensure that every aspect of the program is planned, executed, and reviewed with precision, contributing to the success of individual projects and the strategic success of the entire organization. Understanding and applying these principles is crucial for program managers to navigate the complexities of managing large-scale, multi-faceted initiatives, which are often pivotal in driving organizational change and delivering substantial value.

Below are the Principles of Program Management:

  • Stakeholders – Effectively engaging stakeholders is crucial for gathering diverse inputs and securing support throughout the program lifecycle. This principle ensures that all potential impacts and benefits are understood and managed from the start.
  • Benefits Realization – This principle focuses on identifying, tracking, and realizing the benefits, ensuring that the program delivers the intended value to the organization and meets its strategic objectives.
  • Synergy – By managing related projects collectively, synergy maximizes resource efficiency and enhances the program’s overall performance and outcome.
  • Team of Teams – Adopting a team of teams approach facilitates better communication and decision-making, allowing for more agile responses to challenges and opportunities within the program.
  • Change – Effective change management is essential for adapting to evolving stakeholder needs and external conditions, ensuring the program remains aligned with its goals.
  • Leadership – Strong leadership provides vision and direction, inspiring and motivating the team to achieve program objectives while navigating complexities and driving performance.
  • Risk – Proactive risk management is critical for anticipating, mitigating, and responding to potential challenges that could impact program success.
  • Governance – Establishing a clear governance framework ensures accountability, decision-making clarity, and oversight throughout the program, aligning with organizational policies and goals.

Bird’s Eye View of Program Management Performance Domains

Program management relies on well-defined performance domains to guide its successful execution and management. These domains represent critical areas of focus that ensure programs meet their immediate project goals, stay aligned with and contribute effectively to the long-term strategic objectives.

From strategic alignment to project life cycle management, each domain addresses aspects of program management, facilitating thorough planning, execution, and governance.

This holistic approach underscores the importance of integrated management practices in achieving overarching business goals and delivering value through strategic initiatives.

  • Strategic Alignment – This domain ensures that the program objectives are consistently aligned with the strategic goals of the organization, maximizing the relevance and impact of program outcomes.
  • Benefits Management – focuses on identifying, qualifying, and realizing benefits, ensuring that all program activities contribute to the intended value and strategic objectives.
  • Stakeholder Engagement – Maintaining effective communication and relationships with all stakeholders to secure support and address their needs throughout the program’s lifecycle.
  • Governance Framework – Establishes the program’s decision-making structure and policies, providing oversight and accountability to ensure compliance and alignment with organizational goals.
  • Collaboration – Encourages effective teamwork and cooperation across different projects and organizational units to enhance resource utilization and achieve program objectives more efficiently.
  • Life Cycle Management—This covers the structured approach to managing the entire program lifecycle, from initiation to closure, ensuring systematic execution and achievement of program goals.

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Reasons You Need to Know Program Management and How It Improves Your PM Skills

Understanding program management is essential for enhancing your project management skills because it extends your capabilities beyond individual projects to oversee broader, more complex initiatives. As organizations increasingly adopt project-based approaches to achieve strategic goals, the ability to manage multiple interconnected projects becomes a skill for driving organizational success.

  • Strategic Oversight – Enable you to align multiple project outputs with organizational goals, ensuring that all efforts contribute to broader strategic outcomes.
  • Resource Optimization – You gain expertise in deploying resources across multiple projects, minimizing waste, and maximizing value.
  • Risk Mitigation – A comprehensive view of multiple projects can help you better identify, analyze, and manage risks at the program level, thus protecting your organization’s interests.
  • Improved Decision-Making – This provides a broader perspective that enhances decision-making capabilities, allowing you to make informed choices that benefit the entire program and, by extension, the organization.
  • Enhanced Stakeholder Management – These skills improve your ability to engage with and manage the expectations of a diverse group of stakeholders, fostering stronger relationships and smoother project execution.

Program management principles and performance domains provide a structured approach to managing these complex interactions. By understanding these concepts, you can effectively oversee the interplay between individual projects and the larger organizational goals.

  • This alignment ensures that the efforts of many project managers and teams are not in silos but contribute to the strategic objectives of the entire portfolio. As a result, knowing program management elevates your project management capabilities and positions you as a contributor to the strategic success of your organization.

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Step-by-Step Instructions to Understand and Relate Program Management within the Organization

Integrating program and project governance framework within your organization is a transformative process that enhances how strategic initiatives are executed and managed. This tailored approach focuses on aligning projects with organizational strategies, optimizing resource allocation, and fostering an environment of continuous improvement.

Here are three essential steps to understand and integrate program management within your organization:

  • Assess Current Project Management Practices
  • Define Program Management Structures
  • Implement and Monitor Program Management Processes

Let us delve into each step:

Assess Current Project Management Practices

Start by conducting a thorough assessment of your existing project management practices. It involves reviewing ongoing and completed projects to identify common challenges, successes, resource allocation efficiency, and stakeholder satisfaction levels. Use this information to pinpoint areas that require improvement or could benefit from a more coordinated approach by the program and project manager. Engaging with project managers and team members during this phase can provide valuable insights into the practical aspects of project execution and existing gaps in management practices.

Define Program Management Structures

With an understanding of your current practices, the next step is to define a program management structure that suits your organization’s needs. It involves setting up governance frameworks to oversee the program, defining roles and responsibilities for program managers and project stakeholders, and establishing clear communication channels between project teams and senior management. Tailor these structures to support strategic alignment and ensure they facilitate effective decision-making and resource management across projects.

Implement and Monitor Program Management Processes

Implement the program management structures and processes you have defined. This includes rolling out new tools and methods for managing multiple projects as a cohesive program, training teams on these new procedures, and setting up monitoring systems to track program progress against strategic goals.

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What is a PMO, and how does it lead within the organization?

Program and Project Management Office (PMO) serves as a hub for program management, leadership, and advocates within an organization. It ensures that programs and projects are strategic and aligned with organizational goals. 

Below are ways how a PMO can effectively lead and advocate for the necessary actions and strategic alignment of programs and projects:

  • It champions best practices, methodologies, and standards for project management across the organization. By standardizing project management processes, the PMO ensures consistency, efficiency, and quality in project execution. This standardization helps in project governance and aligns all project activities with strategic objectives, ensuring that each project contributes to the overarching goals.
  • A PMO provides an operational-level view of all projects and programs, enabling it to see the big picture and understand how different initiatives interlink and contribute to strategic aims. This oversight allows the PMO to allocate resources, prioritize projects, and adjust strategies to maximize organizational impact and efficiency.
  • The PMO also plays a role in stakeholder management by acting as a bridge between project teams while managing stakeholders and senior management. It ensures that all stakeholders are informed of project progress, potential risks, and changes in strategy. This transparency helps build trust and secure stakeholder support, which is crucial for project success.
  • It advocates for necessary changes and improvements in project management practices. By continually assessing the effectiveness of current project management strategies and advocating for innovative practices or tools, the responsible PMO drives continuous improvement within the organization. This enhances project outcomes and ensures that the organization remains adaptable and competitive in a changing business environment.

The Program and Project Management Office (PMO) is essential for fostering strategic alignment, advocating for effective management practices, and leading organizational change.

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Key Considerations for Successfully Managing Programs and Projects

Successfully managing programs and projects goes beyond implementing structured processes and adherence to best practices. It requires an understanding of several considerations that can influence the outcomes of project and program management efforts.

Cultural Alignment

One factor often overlooked is the alignment of program and project management practices with the organization’s culture. The success of management initiatives heavily depends on their organizational values and work environment.

Programs and projects are more likely to receive widespread acceptance and achieve their goals when they resonate with and are supported by the organization’s cultural norms and values. Promoting a culture that values transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement is essential for the adaptive project management landscape.

Stakeholder Communication

Effective communication is another cornerstone of successful program and project management. Establishing clear, open lines of communication with all stakeholders involved, from the project team and members to top management and external partners, is essential.

Regular updates, transparent reporting of issues and progress, and the open exchange of ideas can help mitigate risks, resolve conflicts, and ensure parties are aligned and committed to the project goals.

Flexible Methodologies

Embracing flexibility in project and program management methodologies is relevant. While traditional methods may offer structure and predictability, modern dynamic environments often require more agility and responsiveness. It means being open to integrating adaptive practices such as Agile, Scrum, or hybrid models, depending on the project’s needs and the environmental factors affecting the program. Tailoring methodologies to fit specific circumstances and challenges of each project or program can lead to more effective management and better outcomes.

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Alternatives to Program Management – System of Adaptive Project Management and Strategic Alignment

Adaptive Project Management and systemic thinking are gaining traction as alternative and complementing approaches. These frameworks and practices emphasize systemic thinking and flexibility, enabling organizations to respond swiftly and effectively to change and uncertainty.

Systemic Thinking in Projects and Programs

This approach involves viewing projects and programs as systems interacting within larger organizational and environmental systems. Systemic thinking helps managers understand and anticipate how changes in one part of a system can affect others.

It encourages a holistic view of project interdependencies, resource flows, and stakeholder influences, which is crucial for strategic alignment and achieving long-term organizational goals. 

By adopting systemic thinking, organizations can ensure that their project and program management strategies are integrated and aligned with broader business processes and objectives.

Adaptive Project Management

Adaptive project management is tailored to projects that operate in environments characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). This approach prioritizes flexibility, iterative planning, and continuous learning, with methodologies like Agile playing a role. Adaptive project management allows teams to remain nimble and adjust their tactics and strategies as project demands and external conditions evolve. The focus is on achieving optimal outcomes through ongoing adaptation to new information and changing circumstances rather than adhering strictly to predefined plans.

By integrating systemic thinking and adaptive methodologies, organizations can better navigate the complexities of modern business environments, leading to more successful projects, innovative solutions, and successful outcomes.

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Final Thoughts on Program Management

The evolution of program and project management combined with adaptive and strategically aligned approaches highlights the need for organizations to enhance their capabilities. As we have explored, program management provides a structured yet flexible framework essential for managing complex and multi-project environments.

By embracing principles like systemic thinking and adopting performance domains that focus on strategic alignment and stakeholder engagement, organizations can ensure that their projects and programs are successful in their rights and contribute significantly to the broader strategic goals.

Stepping up your project management game to include program management is about expanding the scope of management practices and enhancing organizational agility and strategic impact. Understanding and implementing advanced program management techniques can be the key to sustainability and success. By thinking systemically and managing programs effectively, organizations can better navigate complexity, maximize resources, and achieve superior outcomes.

Now is the time to advance your project management approaches and take advantage of program management’s potential to drive your organization forward.

References

Project Management Institute. (2021). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK guide)* (7th ed.). Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute. (2017). The standard for program management (4th ed.). Project Management Institute.

Dengiz, B. F. (2013). Program-project management, relations, commonalities, differences. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2013—North America, New Orleans, LA. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute. Retrieved April 2024 from https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/program-project-management-relations-commonalities-differences-10591