Program Management is Evil!

Few things can “go bad” more quickly than Program Management. But program management should be your friend, not a “necessary evil”.

Why so often does it become a reviled topic? Because program management can be one of the most mis-used, underestimated, maligned activities.

Let’s remember why we do program management – – it helps us ensure that programs get accomplished on time and on budget.

That’s it.

It’s a means to an end. Not really a difficult concept when you think about it that way.

BUT, my oh my, can it cause heartache! Here are some examples of program management gone horribly wrong.

1) Program Management as a wrench, instead of the whole toolbox

  • What happens? Have you ever had a program manager that could only play one note? They hauled out the same workplan template for every program?
  • Why doesn’t this work? Your program is only using one tool out of what should be a whole toolbox of options to track and manage the program. You’re missing out on other things that may be helping you. (and you’re probably sick of seeing that same template)

2) Program Management as The Police

  • What happens? This is the Program Manager that is only there to check if everyone is doing the items on the workplan. They “police” the plan. They don’t help manage it, just want to know if you’ve done it.
  • Why doesn’t this work? Checking the boxes rarely is the whole picture. The police aren’t interested in how everything is going, coaching folks that may not understand the plan, or helping folks that may be having issues with tasks.

3) Program Management as a Showcase for Program Management Processes

  • What happens? This is the Program Manager that is enamored with the process and tools of program management. It’s program management for the sake of program management. They bring out every template and metric and figure out how to cram it into the program.
  • Why doesn’t this work? Now you have “too much” program management. You’re spending too much time on it for not enough benefit. You need to get rid of some of the things going on. Be sure to keep the right stuff – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

4) Program Management as ‘One Size Fits All”

  • What happens? This is the Program Manager that uses the same workplan template, status approach, risk and issue management & metrics scorecard no matter what the program looks like – No matter how big or small, complex or simple, long or short, the plan is the same.
  • Why doesn’t this work? You’ve got to scale the approach to the program. If you are working on a manufacturing program for the Defense department, well, then you need something pretty comprehensive, but PLEASE don’t bring that same approach to the five person, three month process mapping program.

So how do you do program management”right”?

You start by asking,

“How can program management best help achieve the goals of this project?”

Program Management is a means, not an end.  If a certain approach is going to be too unwieldy or take too much time and provide not enough benefit, then scrap it.

I always try to keep “practical and tactical” as my guidelines. You need to balance the cost (effort, time & resources) with the reward.

  • If it’s “too hard”, the project team won’t do it –> so little benefit

  • If the PM approach is “too easy” or too lax, you won’t catch issues and problems (at least not in time to do anything about them) –> so little benefit

  • the sweet spot is to find the right amount of activities the gives the biggest payoff for the program.

This is where time up front is well spent to scope out what you are going to do. Make sure that the program sponsor, stakeholders, participants, are on the same page about what we are going to do and achieve on the program – and how it is going to be managed.

Kirsten Jordan is a Partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @Kirstenkbdb. Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.