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Program Management

Program management or Programme management is the process of managing several related projects, often with the intention of improving an organization's performance. In practice and in its aims it is often closely related to systems engineering and industrial engineering.

The Program Manager has oversight of the purpose and status of all projects in a Program and can use this oversight to support project-level activity to ensure the overall program goals are likely to be met, possibly by providing a decision-making capacity that cannot be achieved at project level or by providing the Project Manager with a program perspective when required, or as a sounding board for ideas and approaches to solving project issues that have program impacts. Typically in a program there is a need to identify and manage cross-project dependencies and often the PMO (Program or Project Management Office) may not have sufficient insight of the risk, issues, requirements, design or solution to be able to usefully manage these. The Program manager may be well placed to provide this insight by actively seeking out such information from the Project Managers although in large and/or complex projects, a specific role may be required. However this insight arises, the Program Manager needs this in order to be comfortable that the overall program goals are achievable.

There are two different views of how programmes differ from projects.

On one view, projects deliver outputs, discrete parcels or "chunks" of change[1]; programs create outcomes. On this view, a project might deliver a new factory, hospital or IT system. By combining these projects with other deliverable and changes, their programs might deliver increased income from a new product, shorter waiting lists at the hospital or reduced operating costs due to improved technology.

The other view[3] is that a program is nothing more than either a large project or a set (or portfolio) of projects. On this second view, the point of having a program is to exploit economies of scale and to reduce coordination costs and risks. The project manager's job is to ensure that their project succeeds. The program manager, on the other hand, may not care about individual projects, but is concerned with the aggregate result or end-state. For example, in a financial institution a program may include one project that is designed to take advantage of a rising market, and another to protect against the downside of a falling market. These projects are opposites with respect to their success conditions, but they fit together in the same program.

According to the view that programs deliver outcomes but projects deliver outputs, program management is concerned with doing the right projects. The program manager has been described as 'playing chess' and keeping the overview in mind, with the pieces to be used or sacrificed being the projects. In contrast, project management is about doing projects right. And also according to this view, successful projects deliver on time, to budget and to specification, whereas successful programs deliver long term improvements to an organization. Improvements are usually identified through benefits. An organization should select the group of programs that most take it towards its strategic aims while remaining within its capacity to deliver the changes. On the other hand, the view that programs are simply large projects or a set of projects allows that a program may need to deliver tangible benefits quickly.

Consider the following set of projects:
  • Design of the new product - this delivers a design specification,
  • Modifications to the production line or factory - delivers a manufacturing capability,
  • Marketing - delivers advertisements, brochures and pamphlets,
  • Staff training - delivers staff trained to sell and support the new product.

One view has it that these are different projects within a program. But in practice they can just as well be managed as sub-projects within a single project. Which approach to choose? Program and project management are both practical disciplines, and the answer to such a question must be "whatever works." What works depends very much on the nature of the organization in which the project or program is run. Typically a program is broken down into projects that reflect the organization's structure. The design project will be run by the design team, the factory will manage the modifications to the production line, and so on. Organizational structure and organizational culture are key factors in how to structure a program.