Program - project management, relations, commonalities, differences

Abstract

The portfolio, program, and project management contexts are different in nature yet, they are closely interacting each other. The portfolio, which consists of programs and projects, gives a clear visibility on company's vision, mission and goals. Programs coordinate the projects (and sometimes operation) to supply more benefits and governance than singular projects may supply. Projects are unique endeavors to create unique deliverable(s) and have a definitive start and end. On the other hand, programs may have projects as well as operations. All projects and operations under a program are related to each other though common targets (benefits) and overall coordination (governance). The information and data flow between program and associated projects can be different depending on the program phase. The governance model set for a program determines when and how these flow to be followed.

Program managers and project managers are working in different domains. The stakeholders of a program may change depending on the active projects in a dedicated timeframe. The program manager has to manage these changing stakeholders.

In this study you will find the relations, commonalities and difference in program and project management. Also, the roles and responsibilities of program manager will be discussed.

Portfolio – Program – Project

Portfolio vs. Program vs. Project

In PMI‘s third edition of The Standard for Portfolio Management, the portfolio is described as “a component collection of programs, projects or operations managed a group to achieve strategic objectives” (PMI, 2013a, p. 3).

It is crucial for companies to optimize the overall resources and integrate them with on-going activities (operations) in line with strategic goals and targets. Although, it is not always necessary that, the components of a portfolio are interrelated, they have to be in line with the strategic goals and targets. To reach them, a careful and deep investigation has to be performed. Each and every project that a company undertakes must address at least one strategic target.

The companies portfolio, and associated program(s), project(s) and operations are the key indicators to correctly measure the achievement of vision, mission, and goals.

The portfolio provides an instant snap-shut to the upper management. This snap-shut can be used to:

  • Decide where and when to invest
  • Define the criteria and how the priorities given for resource allocation based on these criteria
  • Provide guidance how strategic and tactical priorities determined.

Therefore, the activities to effectively manage the components by balancing their individual needs, to reach the vision, mission, and goals, can be called portfolio management.

The program, on the other hand, is defined in The Standard for Program ManagementThird Edition, as “A group of related projects, subprograms and program activities that are managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually” (PMI, 2013b, p. 4).

The program includes some other components beyond the scope of related projects, program(s) and subprogram(s). This specific feature of the program thus, brings additional aspect called governance. To reach the ultimate goal from a program (to obtain benefits not available from managing the related projects and program activities individually) a structured way of working has to be established.

Programs deliver benefits to companies to gain new capabilities or enhance the existing ones. These deliveries of the benefits are processed in a long term, and through a careful planning providing a network between strategic goals and projects.

The interrelation of each benefits to be delivered through program and coordination are performed by means and methods as described in the governance model of the program.

Project, on the other hand, is a work effort made over a finite period of time with a start and a finish to create a unique product, service, or result. Because a project has a start and a finish, it is also called a temporary effort or endeavor. Whereas, the project management is the usage of knowledge, skills, and tools to manage a project from start to finish with the goal of meeting the project requirements. It involves using the appropriate processes.

Program Management

The program management can be considered as the management of a business to reach the strategic benefits and goals of the company in a coordinated manner, and obtaining results greater than managing the components individually.

Program management is not about managing multiple projects simultaneously; that would be project management. Project management and program management are like siblings, different but yet in relation. For many organizations, project management and program management have been synonymous. They can be easily differentiated by definitions given above.

A program consists of multiple projects and each of those projects is managed under project management. To understand the need for program management, one should look below aspects:

  • Dependencies among projects
  • Prioritizing issues arising from different projects
  • The strategic goals and objectives of the organization for which the projects are being executed

This is an incomplete list of aspects that are managed under program management. This suggests that program management is not about managing the details of individual projects, but rather involves managing the big picture.

Therefore, program management can be described as the centralized coordinated management of a program to achieve the organization's strategic benefits and objectives.

Program Life Cycle

The program life cycle was defined in The Standard for Program ManagementSecond Edition (PMI, 2008, p. 19):

  1. Pre-Program Preparations
  2. Program Initiation
  3. Program Setup
  4. Delivery of Program Benefits
  5. Program Closure

Although this approach was describing the program management as a process, the emphasis on very important aspect of the program needs to be stronger, the benefit management.

Therefore, with the third edition of The Standard for Program Management is modified to give a stronger message to this aspect:

  1. Program Definition: Program definition activities typically occur as the result of an organization's plan to fulfill strategic objectives or achieve a desired state within an organization's portfolio. The primary purpose of the program definition phase is to progressively elaborate the strategic objectives to be addressed by the program, define the expected program outcomes, and seek approval for the program.
  2. Program Benefits Delivery: Throughout this iterative phase, program components are planned, integrated and managed to facilitate the delivery of the intended program benefits.
  3. Program Closure: The purpose of this phase is to execute a controlled closure of the program.

A program is initiated and defined during the program definition phase. It is implemented in the program benefits delivery phase, where individual components (projects) initiated, implements, transitioned, and closed, while benefits are delivered, transitioned and, sustained. The program is transitioned and closed, or the work is transitioned to another program during the program closure phase (PMI, 2013b, p. 19).

Benefits Management

Especially on new product/service development programs, program, and as a result, benefits management approach, will support the maximization benefits defined at the beginning.

Here, the term “benefit” used to cover not only the managing organization of the program but also all stakeholders naturally including the customer.

During the identification of stakeholders; their needs, implicit and explicit benefits have also been identified and analyzed.

The benefits management is defined in The Standard for Program ManagementThird Edition, as “a process to clarify the program's planned benefits and intended outcome and include processes for monitoring the program's ability to deliver against these benefits and outcomes” (PMI, 2013b, p. 33).

The main purpose of the benefits management is to manage the expectations of stakeholders through benefits. The program manager has to ensure that all requirements and needs of the stakeholders should be addressed and continually monitored during the execution of several components of the program. It is clear that, the program manager needs a complete benefits management plan and set of metrics to monitor the progress of the components in terms of benefits delivery.

Governance

Governance is used as a term to define the will, power, and processes needed for the management activities. Program Governance, within this context, can be defined as an integrated approach which is taking into consideration the rules and management assets of the company. Those rules and assets are covering the technical requirements, their interdependencies, cooperation, involvement and allocation of management processes.

As being the soul of the program management, governance administrates the program components (subprograms, projects, operations) by using the benefits (in a very short description the positive effects of the change), which may be treated as the ultimate goal of the program.

Program Manager

Knowledge Area

Program managers must have a deep understanding of the program targets (benefits), organization's process assets, and stakeholders’ needs and expectations.

The main activities of a program manager, among the components of the program, he or she:

  • Oversee proper resource allocation
  • Manage the requirements
  • Manage the configuration

A successful program manager has to understand and to equipped with following knowledge area and competencies:

  • Communication
  • Time Management
  • Program Management Processes
  • Program Environment
  • Corporate Management
  • Strategic Vision
  • Policies
  • Leadership
  • Soft Skills

The first one “communication” is the compounding element to manage all others.

Stakeholder Management

Program manager, has to prepare a stakeholder management plan to understand and manage the stakeholders expectations (sometimes even conflicting), bring stakeholders buy-in for the program targets.

Some stakeholders may have positive, some negative influences to program. The program manager has to give most of his or her time to communicate with these stakeholders to understand them, and negotiate the program targets with them.

The important aspects of the stakeholder management are summarized as follows (Sanghera, 2008, p. 46):

  • Additional levels of stakeholders: The first thing to understand about the program stakeholder management is that it extends beyond project stakeholder management. The program stakeholder management must look for additional levels of stakeholders arising from dependencies among the project in the program and from the wholeness of the program – the consolidated benefits and capabilities.
  • Positive and negative stakeholders: Program stakeholder management must identify both kind of stakeholders, negative and positive, and determine how the program will affect them.
  • Stakeholder management plan: It includes the stakeholder communication plan to deliver needed, accurate and consistent information to all relevant stakeholders in a timely fashion.
  • Communication strategy: Based on the identification of stakeholders and the effects that a program will have on them, the stakeholder management must develop a communication strategy stakeholders’ expectations and improving their acceptance of the program objectives.
  • Communication approach: The communication approach should be proactive and targeted. The key messages should be developed and delivered to the right stakeholders at the right time in the right manner.
  • Change management: The program manager has to keep an eye on the ball, and the ball in the program management is the benefits the program will deliver.

Conclusion

Although they are different in nature, the portfolio, program and project management context are closely interacting each other. The portfolio, which consists of programs and projects, give a clear visibility on company's vision, mission and goals. Programs coordinate its components to supply more benefits through the established governance than singular projects may supply. Projects are unique endeavors to create unique deliverable(s) and have a definitive start and end. The information and data flow between program and associated projects can be different depending on the program phase. The governance model set for a program determines when and how these flow to be followed.

The program managers must have a deep understanding of the above program context, including the stakeholders management. Also they have to plan for the expected benefits and manage the influence of the stakeholders positively.

Project Management Institute. (2013a). The standard for portfolio managementthird edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute. (2013b). The standard for program managementthird edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute. (2008). The standard for program managementsecond edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Sanghera, P. (2008). Fundamentals of effective program management. Plantation, FL: J. Ross Publishing Inc.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2013, B. Firat Dengiz
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana

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