An inside job?
BY DENENE BROX
to name a new program manager. Do you find a candidate among your project management ranks or look outside your organization? Not every project manager will make an effective program manager—and not all of them even want to go down that career path. Learning to identify those who can trade the tactical work of managing projects for the strategic mindset essential for successful program management will save you the costly mistake of appointing the wrong person.
We asked five professionals how to find those project managers within your ranks with the skills, experience and potential to shine as program managers. The panel also has advice about what to look for in outside hires.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PROMOTING A PROJECT MANAGER AT YOUR ORGANIZATION TO A PROGRAM MANAGER ROLE?
Eric S. Norman, PMP, PgMP: One of the main benefits is the person typically knows the ins and outs of the organization—the political atmosphere and the technology environment, and is aware of how to work effectively within them.
Hemanshu Joshi: The internally recruited program manager knows the organization's influencers and followers and can quickly tread his or her way through the labyrinth, because a rapport is already established. This helps when a program must be launched without delay.
Hemanshu Joshi, project manager, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Erik Lukac, operations manager at Cleverlance Enterprise Solutions, a software developer in Bratislava, Slovakia
Eric S. Norman, PMP, PgMP, program director and senior principal at SRA International Inc., an IT and strategy consultancy in Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Pieter Oosthuizen, PhD, PMP, executive vice president of operations and COO at Thurston Companies, a construction and management firm in Washington, D.C., USA
John L. Warren, vice president of strategic business solutions and executive director of the Stanford advanced project management center of excellence for strategy execution at IPS Learning, a project management training firm in San Mateo, California, USA
With a hire from within, internal stakeholders are confident the individual will perform the task efficiently and deliver results. The stakeholders' confidence reduces the urge to constantly monitor the program manager's performance, which might be the case when a program manager is hired from outside the organization.
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL PITFALLS?
Mr. Joshi: Those already established relationships might not always be positive. If the project manager doesn't have a good rapport with the team, his or her promotion to program manager would hamper the program more than facilitate it.
In many cases, the person concerned has been with the organization for a long time, and the organization's environment affects his or her mindset. Such people might not be able to think creatively; they think within the boundaries of the thought process they were groomed in. Their confined thinking will harm programs if they are not trained, groomed or exposed to new challenges, technologies or practices.
Erik Lukac: It could be a drawback if the organization does not have clearly defined processes in place for all areas of program management and is relying exclusively on project management techniques for the management of complex programs. Or if the senior project manager has no experience in managing inter-project dependencies, it would be better to hire an external program manager with the requisite experience.
WHAT'S A GOOD WAY TO JUDGE IF AN INTERNAL PROJECT MANAGER IS READY FOR A PROGRAM MANAGEMENT ROLE?
Mr. Joshi: I recommend that the project manager have been responsible for delivering multiple large projects that have diverse team sizes, cultures, timelines and technologies. The project manager in question should begin the transition under the supervision of mentors, but gradually he or she should be allowed to work independently, supported by teams. This initial incubation period will help stakeholders evaluate the new program manager's performance and decide whether or not the person is ready to continue in the position of program manager.
John L. Warren: Look at your messiest, most challenging projects and find the project managers or technical leads who excelled in working through the challenges to successful conclusions. You want to find people who keep their cool in a crisis.
Mr. Norman: A good indicator is if a project manager has demonstrated competence at producing consistent results at the individual level and is able to interact with leaders at all levels of an organization—including senior executives and board members. Effective communication with all levels of an organization is an important element of a program manager's role.
WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO GROOM THESE CANDIDATES?
Mr. Norman: Find opportunities for them to take part in larger, strategically important initiatives. Also, clarify the project manager's vision as to where the program is going, and ensure that the person is aware of the connectivity between the program's components as well as the program's importance and alignment with the organization's strategic objectives.
Recruiting From Within
PLUS: The candidate has an inside knowledge and understanding of the inner workings of the organization—helping to speed up the process.
S: The person could be locked into a limiting mindset about the organization's culture.
PLUS: Promoting from within may motivate other employees who see that the organization rewards performance.
MINUS: The candidate may have a tendency to approach program management as a very large project.
- Project managers who think big-picture and keep the broader program and goals in mind while working on their individual projects.
- Candidates with solid records of achievement over the course of their careers.
- Those who know how to effectively delegate tasks and don't get mired in minutiae.
For example, public health programs include a variety of diverse projects. The individual project managers may not be fully aware of the relationships of their efforts to the larger programs. Project managers leading a marketing or data-collection project in one area may not know the details of the overall effort. How a project manager seeks out, learns about and participates within the larger context demonstrates his or her desire and underlying capability for transition to the role of program manager.
WHAT ARE SOME SIGNALS THAT A PROJECT MANAGER WOULD NOT BE A GOOD FIT FOR A PROGRAM MANAGER POSITION?
Pieter Oosthuizen, PhD, PMP: Some individuals have a natural “feel” for managing projects and will always excel. However, not all good project managers have the ability to manage at a higher level. Those who are willing to step up and succeed outside traditional boundaries are your best program manager candidates.
Project managers won't make good program managers if they get bogged down in details, are unable to resolve conflicts and have poor people skills. A project manager will focus on the specific project—its scope, goals, resources and completion—while a program manager has to focus on several projects in the same program, all related to achieving a greater goal. Harmonizing several projects is much more difficult than managing an individual project.
Take the global fight against AIDS. A project manager in an African country is totally focused on achieving that country's set goals, whereas a program manager working for the World Health Organization has to manage limited resources for 30 countries and still ensure the overall goals are achieved.
A red flag in this scenario is if your project manager spends an inordinate amount of time on one aspect, such as providing AIDS medicine to the last vial, rather than on achieving overall patient-treatment goals. Yes, it is good to manage the details—but not at the expense of the larger program's success.
RECRUIT YOUR NEXT PROGRAM MANAGER INTERNALLY
“Internal promotions can prove to be a win-win for both the employee and the organization.”
Head to PMI's Career Central to read more.
DO YOU HAVE ANY SUCCESS STORIES OF GROOMING INTERNAL PROJECT MANAGERS INTO PROGRAM MANAGERS?
Mr. Lukac: Yes, two, at my previous job as project management office director at the IT company PosAm. At the time of appointment, each was a senior project manager with extensive knowledge of project management techniques and long-term experience in complex-project management. Both had also obtained external certification at the senior project manager level. A further plus: They had worked for the company for a long time and had risen through its ranks, from the developer and analyst level to middle management.
A PROGRAM MANAGER HAS TO FOCUS ON SEVERAL PROJECTS IN THE SAME PROGRAM, ALL RELATED TO ACHIEVING A GREATER GOAL. HARMONIZING SEVERAL PROJECTS IS MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAN MANAGING AN INDIVIDUAL PROJECT.
—Pieter Oosthuizen, PhD, PMP, Thurston Companies, Washington, D.C., USA
They had to extend their knowledge by dealing with various situations related to the management of inter-project dependencies, enterprise-wide allocation of resources, process optimization and change management at the organizational level. They also had long-term experience in communicating with internal stakeholders at the executive level. After approximately one year, they were fully adapted to the program manager role.
Mr. Norman: I actually came from the project management ranks. My natural inclination was to gravitate toward program management. I successfully made a smooth transition because I was attracted by and interested in making contributions at the organizational level, looking at the bigger picture and working more closely with senior leadership.
WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR IN OUTSIDE HIRES? HOW CAN YOU ASSESS THEIR SKILLS?
Mr. Warren: For large, complex programs that are new to an organization, an inside candidate with the requisite skills and experience may not exist. If you're going outside, find a program manager who has actually led and shouldered responsibility for similar types of programs. Do not rely only on a résumé. Talk directly to the sponsors of those programs—people who saw the candidate in action—and determine exactly how much authority he or she had. Ask candidates to walk through a typical week on a large program they led, describing what they did and where they focused their time.
Mr. Norman: I ask about a particular individual's understanding of the difference between project and program management. The answer is often very illuminating. Many project managers perceive programs simply as very large projects. This is not the case. Program management requires a number of skills and competencies that are not necessary at the project level. Most importantly, program managers must be aware of how projects and programs operate and perform together within an organization.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO LOOK FOR WHEN RECRUITING FOR A PROGRAM MANAGER POSITION—WHETHER YOU'RE HIRING FROM WITHIN OR NOT?
Dr. Oosthuizen: You can only go so far in screening candidates. The presence of real experience with a solid track record remains the best metric to find a good program manager.
I believe that everyone establishes themselves for the rest of their careers after about 10 years. Achievements, or the lack thereof, indicate how the person will perform in the future. A good project manager will very quickly build a solid record of achievement, and that is a good starting point in selecting program manager candidates. PM
PM NETWORK FEBRUARY 2012 WWW.PMI.ORG
FEBRUARY 2012 PM NETWORK