An emotional lesson to learn

What a great day! You’ve been assigned a program to deliver. It’s something that you can see value in. It even looks deliverable. As a Program Manager you feel on top of the world, and set out to get this thing done.

You’re all in. You’re engaged. You’re emotionally invested.

For those of us who have been in this game for a while there may be some wry smiles among you, maybe even a sigh, or a mild shake of the head. You know what is about to happen.

You see one of the fundamental differences between experienced program managers and those new to the profession is emotional detachment. This is not to say that experienced program managers don’t care, far from it! Only that you cannot be emotionally invested in the program, for a very important reason.

It’s not your program.

Hard for some program managers to hear when they first start out, but it’s the reality.

It’s not your program.

The program belongs to those who invest. Those who own the benefit. Those who made the decision to bring you in to help.

Your job is not to make the decisions. Your job is to make sure that decisions get made and, where possible, try and have them be the right ones. Your job is to help manage the risk that the benefits sought by the sponsor and business owner might not be realised.

So even though you may have seen the problem before. Even though you may have some expertise in the field. Even though you can see the train wreck coming. It is up to the sponsor and business owner to make the decision whether to change course or crash the train.

And you need to be at peace with this.

If you have flagged the risk clearly, in a way that could not be misunderstood. If you have presented options. If you have described the train wreck coming and offered all assistance to prevent it, then you have done all that can be reasonably expected of you.

It’s not your program.

This is a tough lesson for a program manager. You want so much to see the benefits realised. You will want to do everything to see success. Hold onto those feelings because they are critical to making you a good program manager throughout your career.

Your job is to support the sponsor to make the most informed decisions possible with consequence to value and benefit well understood. Your job is provide the best chance for benefits to be realised for someone else’s investment. Attempting to influence the decisions for the better is well within your remit. At the end of the day though, it is not your money and not your program. They must make the decisions.

You need to be at peace with your role. You can choose to try and help or choose to walk away. Those choices are always open to you.

You can, and should, care about getting to a good result. You really should care about the wellbeing of those you are working with. The challenge is to not be totally invested in the outcome of things outside of your control, and that includes the decisions made for the program scope. That way lies sleepless nights, heightened anxiety and probably significant investments at Dan Murphy’s!

Remember, it’s not your program!

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Nathan Jones

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