Program manager and the governor of the Roman province: why do they have similar responsibilities
The title of this presentation has the goal to capture your attention; the main objective is to share with you some aspects of project manager or program manager. My idea is to check with you if these aspects, sometimes, can be assimilated to real government activities; Latins said managing “res publica”.
This article will not be centred only on program management aspects, but I will widen the scenery and show how a hi-tech service company usually sets the business strategy and the related ordinary consequences which impact the behaviour of program managers.
I have to make an important premise: the whole speech concerns a specific category of a program manager. The program manager to which I refer is the person who has the responsibility of all the projects that a hi-tech service company owns at a customer site. His main purpose is to standardize behaviours, methods and habits of all the teams working on a specific customer company and to supervise the entire delivery at this customer location.
I do not mean, therefore, to talk, with this expose, about the responsibilities of program managers who work for development laboratories and who do not have contact with customers, because they manage similar technological areas and they are mainly concentrated on improving organizational efficiency. Neither do I refer to program managers who have only one big and large project to which many project managers are assigned; these program managers have the task to coordinate the activities of each project team to successfully reach, together, the final end date of the project. In such cases they can be considered a sort of chief project manager.
The program managers to which I will refer have the responsibilities of technologically unrelated activities, they deal with various areas of customer business, but whose only common denominator is the corporate name of their customer.
Working as project manager before, and program manager later, for an important consulting service company and looking at how competitor companies are organized at the customer sites, I was wondering how much more tightened is the tie between my job and the customer organization and people. Program managers, like project managers and consultants, because of their job, spend more time at the customer sites than at their company location. These daily activities, this loneliness, has various effects, positives in some cases, negatives in others, but, in any case, they have to keep in mind in order avoid the chance they can sink. In this article we will examine these aspects having compared them also with those ones belonging to the governors of the ancient Roman provinces.
Hi-tech Service Companies
Hi-tech service companies, in the greater part of the cases, are organized with a powerful sales force, often concentrated around the most important customers, who supply a huge part of the revenues and who give business continuity. In these specific cases, a strong relation exists between service companies and customer companies; relating who can be considered a partnership, why the customer company successes and failures directly affect hi-tech service company business. Corporations who depend on very few large customers, or on a single niche market, obviously and dangerously bind their destiny to the customer business or to the trends of the niche market. As a result it is absolutely vital that each service company tries to expand its major customer portfolio or to enter in new markets. The sale forces deployed in these cases need to have diverse characteristics from the salespeople who generally work around the relationship with a reliable customer. The attempt to gain new customers or new markets demands a different organization of the sale personnel with precise behaviours.
Service companies have to set up a different way of approaching the sale phase depending on the customer profile: if the customer is a trusted one or a new one to conquest. But these considerations do not impact only the salespeople. Immediately after it is the delivery organization which will have to adopt a strategy which will allow the hi-tech service company to penetrate in the customer territory and establish a permanent outpost to start the process to convert the new customer to a trusted one.
Starting our comparison with the historical period of the ancient Rome, we can already see the first likenesses. The historical period which I want to talk about is a specific well-known historical period: the beginning of The Roman Empire when Cesar Augustus was emperor.
Augustus is, by and large, considered by everyone a wise emperor who gave to Rome the foundation of the empire and that allowed to the Romans to rule the Mediterranean world for some centuries. Augustus Empire was also called “Principato”.
The Principato is remembered as a period of great economic prosperity and social peace: the same Augustus, in the “Res Gestae” speaks, with pride, of its personal victories and of the military honours that were credit to him. Military honours allowed him to create the pax augustea and to promote the main features of the new order. In reality the peace was only inside the empire. Outside the empire Augustus lead many wars, sometime he won and sometime he lost; but its military engagement and its war talent did not fear comparisons.
The second reason for which I have taken into consideration the Augustan period is because is widely accepted that the Roman empire, during that period, had reached its maximum expansion; that, obviously, involved further problems because it was not that easy to manage territories so far from Rome.
We must therefore look at the Roman Empire as an example, where we can learn many lessons: on one side we have a trusted customer, which can be considered the Roman provinces already pacified and where people live in peace; on the other side we have the new markets and the new customers to conquest, and these are the border territories of the Roman Empire.
As it can be seen from Exhibit 1 the Roman provinces under a calm jurisdiction are those coloured blue. These were called senatorie and were subordinates to the government of the senate. Those not yet peaceful were those orange coloured and were called imperial and directly managed by Augustus.
The process of conquest
Our analysis starts from an example of conquest of a new customer and we will follow how the organization at the customer site of a service company evolves. The final step is the nomination of a program manager and the criteria on which we need to base the choice of a program manager, which characteristics he needs to have, how he should operate and which problems he generally has to face.
Stage one: Preparing the strategy
When we look at the process since the beginning, to be precise, from when the service company decides to engage itself to become one of the suppliers of a customer, until the moment in which this customer becomes a trusted customer, it is obvious that the role played from the project manager before and the program manager later is absolutely fundamental.
Let us make an example of a sample company, called ACME, which sets a specific objective: conquest a specific major new customer. It is an interesting customer, whose revenues increases year by year, a customer where some important concurrent suppliers are already present. This is the phase in which ACME prepares the plans for the proposition of its own offer.
As we said earlier, in this stage we can already start our comparison with the Roman period. At that time Augustus could evaluate and decide to proceed to the conquest of a new adjacent territory. The reasons could be for the purpose of pure expansion, or because the region was particularly prosperous and wealthy, or because the territory was mostly dangerous and unsafe and from there could come attacks to the quiet provinces.
At the same way ACME can decide to proceed to the conquest of a new big account. Even the justification can be very similar: a new rich market, an increase of the market share, or a competitor that it is becoming a reference point for a type of market and therefore has to be faced on its field.
After having set the strategy in order to carry on the attack to the new territories, Augustus had to select the legions that he would have sent for conquest of this territory. According to the characteristics of the battle, he chose the legions which best fit.
ACME has to proceed with the same approach. According to the characteristics of the target and its strategic importance, ACME has to choose the salespeople which best fit. ACME will look for people who are more equipped and enthusiastic to earn new markets or new customers, people who are available to fight and who are more prepared to cope with the complications. This is the time when it is necessary to be able to face the experience of defeats, when the successes are very few, when it is important to have a lot of patience and persistence.
So for an army, it is the time for the battles (participation to RFQ), ambushes (attempts to have appointments with customer managers), embassies and collaboration with the enemies or the friends of the population of the territory to conquer (alliances with trusted partners or even competitors in order to become a supplier of the target customer) and other amenities of the selling phase.
Stage two: Getting the first results
If the strategy was right, if the method to carry on was correct and if the chosen persons for driving it were appropriate, ACME can announce is first accomplishment: the first project, even a minor one, but it is the first step in the heart of the new customer.
Let see the Roman field. If the commander and the chosen legion were suitable, the strategy of conquest was right it is likely that Augustus could declare his own first useful outcome. The conquest of the first city, even a minor one, but it will allow to the Romans to better know the population, their habits and customs, and it will show to the inhabitants how much the Roman people do not mean to be and do not want to be an annihilator.
We do not forget that this phase is extremely important for the take-over of new markets or new territories. The same Augustus had to face heavy defeats. The attempt to penetrate Germany up to the Elba River, as an example, was broken up from the uprising of Germanic tribes (9 a.C.) guided by the Germanic chief, Arminio (Hermann). The Germans exterminated the three Roman legions belonging to Varo in the forest of Teutoburgo as the Romans marched towards their winter quarters. The border was therefore established on the Reno River.
As far as foreign politics, Augustus tried to widen its dominions, so that he could guarantee better protection to all the territory of Rome; in order to pursue such an objective he had to enlarge the frontiers until reaching the Danube. His project of territorial expansion found remarkable consensus in Roman public opinion, which has always considered the Roman expansion mandatory.
The conquest of the first project forces ACME to adjust its own strategy in order to understand how and why it was able to smash in that forehead and how to set up the successive campaign. This is a parallel task on which the sale forces will have to be concentrated. The first earned project let ACME to open an inner forehead that can allow breaking through more easily. Now there is an occupying force and ACME has to allocate the right elements adapted to living in a context lacking a friendly position. The project team lives in a “hostile” territory, under continuous observation by the new customer. The project manager, who is the person in charge of the project, must try to earn the confidence of the customer day by day, and must carry on the project till the end without errors, must defeat the internal customer opposition, which can be present at various management level. These are all the people who disagreed on the choice of ACME as the new supplier.
At the same time, the project manager has to start to convey and adapt the ACME company culture into the customer environment. This is a slow and time-consuming process. He needs to be comprehensive in order not to harden the customer too much. It is a critical phase during which ACME risks its future relationship with the customer. It is a phase which is often under estimate by many suppliers. Failures in this phase can block any kind of business with that customer for years. Smart investments in terms of persons and behaviours in this period will consent to ACME to collect business and projects for years.
The responsibility of this phase is a project manager who needs to have strong communication and relationship capability. He needs to have strong support by the technical experts, which ACME will allocate on the project. These experts will have to astonish the customers with their technical expertise, but they will not have to be “too expert” to generate a menace for the customer people. The relationship is under the project manager responsibilities and it has to be played at any level.
Returning to our association with the Roman Empire, the project manager can be considered the “proconsul” to whom ACME hands over the task to rule the first conquered city. This proconsul did not have to be a person who used its power in order to depredate and to tax the city, or that it only took advantage of the citizens. The mismanagement would have provoked a unspoken dissent against the newcomers, and such news would even be spread to the other cities of the territory. This could increase their will to fight, entrusting themselves to other populations or enemies in order to fight against the Roman invasion. It was worthwhile that the proconsul was instead “enlightened”, that he was able to rule with justice and not like an invader, that he took into account the Romanization of the population, so that he could facilitate the mission of conquest of the legions that were fighting in order to annex new cities belonging to the territory to conquer.
Hence, it is fundamental that the project manager is not only interested in executing the project with the goal of the maximum economic return; in such a way the territory will become arid. He should not be interested in the immediate glory, but he must try to postpone this triumph. He must be focused to make a project a success for the project manager of the customer and even for the staff of the customer. The greater honour of the project has to be given to them. In such a way, also, more territories will be opened for the conquest of the sale forces.
What we have just said does not mean that the project must necessarily be not profitable or that the project manager does not have to be interested in making money with the project. What is important to consider is that it is necessary to check each situation and compare the behaviour at the customer site with the strategy of ACME Company, in order verifying the priorities to give to the objectives.
The project manager behaviours have to be compliant with the company strategy, which is meant to make investments for the conquest of a new market and for which strong presale investments have already been made. We remember that the value of the won project can be, very likely, much less than the investments that have been made during the presale activities, and the project manager in some cases cannot be aware of them.
Another important aspect in this phase is related to the isolation of the project manager and his team. He is alone in the new territory because he does not have colleagues who are delivering other projects and therefore he is not in a position to take advantage of the connections and the synergy among the ACME teams at the customer site. He needs to cultivate a strong relationship with the sale forces, he has to support, and he needs to be able to take into account their needs and he can not be an obstacle for gaining new projects.
This also happened for the Roman proconsul in the first conquered city. He was far from the headquarters, he needed to be prompt to react to any input and solicitation he received from the local population and from the territory, and he had to give support to the army, which was fighting in the surrounding battlefields. He had to manage relationships with other populations and find local alliances or local suppliers.
The question now is how to reward a project manager if, in this specific situation, he cannot be evaluated only on the success of a single project.
Augustus decided to reward proconsoli with an ordinary pay. This was a decision, which broke the tradition of the Roman Republic who asked the governors of the Roman province to satisfy their needs directly from the ruled territory.
A similar consideration can be applied to our ACME project manager. Rewarding behaviour, which is based on asking to the project manager to bring home the maximum profit from a project, can be extremely harmful, as we said earlier. Rewarding behaviours need to take into account also customer satisfaction, business development metrics, and team member satisfaction and so on. The project manager job has to be considered as a whole. As in the PMBOK® Guide, we can learn that we need to take into account all of the nine areas. But we know that most of them are not easily measurable because we cannot state simple metrics for some of these areas.
Stage three: Evolving from project manager to program manager
Now ACME wants to go further. ACME was able to set up a benchmark at the customer site. It is a strong outpost, but it has the need to increase the number of projects.
Following the strategy we mentioned in the previous paragraph, ACME was able to win some new projects. Some of them are correlated to the original ones; others have been required by the same customer personnel but involve technology not linked to the original project.
ACME needs to take an important decision in this phase: does it need to allocate a new project manager for each new won project, or can it concentrate the project management effort on one single person, specifically the project manager resident at the customer site?
In my opinion, ACME has to try to follow the second option. The project manager has to be charged with the responsibility of the newly won projects. On one side, because he built a trusted environment, on the other side, because he has a better vision of the customer business and has been able to set up a good relationship network.
In this phase, he can start to collect some results in terms of resource efficiency, while allocating a brand new project manager; it is likely that ACME has to start the whole process since scratch.
Allocating a brand new project manager can also give the feeling to the customer personnel that ACME is too focused on the technological aspects of the projects and it exploits a project manager only for the time needed to deliver a single project. ACME could give the impression that it is not interested in setting up a partnership relationship with the customer.
It is pretty obvious that we need to evaluate the size of the project and the availability of technical experts who can strongly support the project manager in the delivery of a set of various projects. If ACME did a careful selection of the project manager for the first small project, analyzing his skills and characteristics, taking in mind the possible evolution of the business at the customer site, the natural step is to also assign to the original project manager the responsibility for the new upcoming projects.
It is in this phase that the role starts to evolve from project manager to program manager and the evolution will continue and the responsibilities of the program manager will increase and enlarge with more and more projects gained by the sale forces and by the delivery team driven by him. Increasing the number of projects, ACME will necessarily have to assign a project manager to the different areas at the customer site and promote the project manager to the role of program manager,
The program manager has to face a lot of different situations compared to the previous role of project manager. He built his leadership inside the team, living day by day close to the team member, organizing the work, defining procedures, role and responsibilities for the projects, checking the economic aspects, managing the relations with his suppliers. As a project manager he was the central character and he was in charge, directly, of all the activities and responsibilities.
As a program manager he needs to step to the back. He will start to relate with the project managers, and the relationship with the project team member will be weaker. He cannot directly operate on the projects, but he is an escalation point for the customer for the whole number of projects and, ergo, he has the task to reach his objectives on the whole program and not, or not only, on the single project.
The choice of the project managers is fundamental and he has to participate in their selection process. He needs to be in synch with them, he has to ask them to work and to organize their team in an analogous mode, and he has to bring the strategy of the ACME organization at the customer site. In this phase, the links with his headquarters can become stronger because he is the link between ACME, the teams and the customer management and personnel.
But he does not have to think that he can play this role living in a remote office far from the customer. Now he has to walk the walk and talk the talk more than in the past. Each team has to watch his continuous presence at the customer site; he needs to talk regularly and constantly with all the team members and project managers, and customer. He needs to transmit the feeling that he is always there, ready and waiting to provide support to manage escalation, to revaluate business priorities, to facilitate the delivery of the projects and, by consequences, of the program.
Hence the role requires a strong capability of managing the communications, involves strong human resource aspects, demands understanding not only the business implications of the delivery, but also of the selling process which will have to evolve, too. He will have to show passion and leadership, he is the reference point.
The final comparison with the Roman period is for the programme manager. The governor was the person who was able to rule the first city, and the further conquered cities, till the moment the armies were able to put in his hands the whole territory, which now is an imperial province of the Roman Empire. As we said earlier, the province is an imperial one because we are at the beginning of the conquest and the peace is still not reigning on the whole territory. The task of the governor is to Romanize the territory and give the peace to the entire population. He will have to go city by city, putting his trusted people at the head of the cities, talking to the previous majors of the cities, talking to the population, representing Rome to the locals and to the Romans living in the territory, helping the army with their needs.
He is the “longa manus” of Augustus like the program manager is the “longa manus” of ACME.
The idea of this paper was to demonstrate that the process of appointing a programme manager is similar to the nomination of a governor of a Roman province. It is something that needs to be built day by day, it is a process of creating a figure which earns the customer and team trust project by project, battle by battle, it is a role which requires patience, communication, tolerance, vision, persistence, judgement capability, politic sensitivity, fast decision-making competence.
As a final statement I want to report what Tacitus said about the “Empire secret”: the new chiefs of the State were not chosen in Rome, but in the provinces, and more precisely in the fields of provinces.
Fraschetti, A. (1998) Augusto, Roma-Bari: Laterza,
Eck, W. (2000) Augusto e il suo tempo, Bologna: Il Mulino, Universale paperbacks 378,
Zecchini, G. (1997) Il pensiero politico romano, Roma: La Nuova Italia Scientifica
Shotter, D. (1993) Cesare Augusto, Genova
© 2004, Guido Ferrari
Originally published as a part of (2004) PMI Global Congress Proceedings – (Prague)