Why project managers need program management

In speaking with business managers and directors about projects and programs I’ve developed a strong view on how well people understand these two things.

Most people just don’t. Most people also believe they do.

So why does this matter? Isn’t that just a rose by any other name?

If you are a reader of business literature you’ll no doubt have seen many complaints of money wasted, or projects being delivered without benefit or worse. You may also have seen bonuses paid to people for successfully completing tasks, but shareholders (or taxpayers….) not getting what they thought they were paying for!

So if the project is delivered doesn’t that automatically give a benefit? Truthfully I have heard that many, many times.

The answer is no.

Rarely does a project deliver a benefit. It is usually a piece of the puzzle. It is when you put together the puzzle pieces that you can see the bigger picture; like in any jigsaw. A program is the picture that you wanted to see; the collection of puzzle pieces. The WHY you wanted to make the investment in the first place. I won’t go into the portfolio concept here; I know the P3 experts want to jump in here…and I agree with you…but lets stick to the central concept for now. A program is the collection of work needed to give you a chance to achieve a benefit. A project is one or more of those bits of work.

So why does that matter? If the picture you want to create with your jigsaw is no longer a tree, it’s now a landscape of mountains, the project might need to change. At the same time, if the project manager doesn’t know you are wanting a tree how will they adjust effectively if something in their project needs to change?

It is important for a project manager to clearly drive for the WHAT of the output, and coordinate the HOW of delivery.

Without doubt, though, a clear picture of the WHY is what guides both of those for everyone in the team stay motivated, driving in the same direction, and have what the great Patrick Lencioni describes as “a purpose greater than just the tasks I do”.

Project Managers need the understanding of Program Management to succeed. We all need to appreciate the difference to make a difference.

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Nathan Jones

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