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Tips for Program Managers

Program management is a different animal than project management. You are the main hub for information and coordination when you are managing a project. However, as you demonstrate expertise in managing projects, you are likely to find yourself managing programs. This means you need to apply different skills because you are now supporting your project managers and workstream team leads, instead of managing the project yourself.

Here are tips to help you be a great program manager. 
  1. Support your workstream leads and project managers. Dial in to their meetings when they are walking through requirements or meeting with their business partners. Your project managers look good when you are on the line and verify the information they give. Also, it helps the project when you can instantly answer the off-the-wall question instead of making the project manager hunt it down. 

  2. Bring your experience to your workstream leads and project managers. You have been on the job for years, and probably know the organization inside-out. Your workstream leads and project managers are likely to have less experience and knowledge than you. Don't be shy to say "This is how we gathered requirements on a similar program last year - this is what worked and what did not. Look at my scars, so that it doesn't happen to you."

  3. Lead the program. Look ahead, six and nine months down the line, see what needs to be done today to make the future become reality, then take action now. Your project managers are not in the position to lead the program, and you need to get out in front of them. They are already proactive professionals, which means that you need to be looking out further than they are.

  4. Praise in public, challenge in private. Encourage your project managers by paying compliments as appropriate, and praising them in public. If you have questions about performance or methods of doing things, then ask in private - don't embarrass them in public. (Remember to be specific when you praise or challenge. Praise = "This was the situation, this is what you did, this is why it is so helpful - positive outcome." Challenge = "I feel that when you did xx, it had this impact. Please help me understand how we can do this differently.")

  5. Help your project managers to develop skills. If a project manager wants to advance up the food chain, then give them the benefit of your experience from your career. Give them additional challenges in scope or complexity to manage. It takes work off your plate and gives them opportunity to develop new skills and gain experience.

  6. Keep out of their way. Managing a program requires you to focus on issues that reach across the program and selectively be involved in tasks/issues that concern a specific workstream. Let your project managers know that you are available to help, but expect them to run with their domains and reach out to you for help, when needed.

  7. Build professional relationships with your workstream leads. They won't come to you with issues if they don't trust you. One-on-one phone calls to understand status and issues is more effective than a weekly status report, even if it is less efficient.   

The transition from managing projects to managing programs requires you to get used to being in the lead on program wide issues, but in the background for workstream-specific issues. It is not efficient to be in the weeds on every workstream activity. 

The good news is that if you manage your projects diligently, then you are likely to be noticed and given opportunity to manage larger projects and programs. I found that it happens quicker than you think, therefore, prepare yourself and your skillset to take advantage of it when it happens for you. 

Copyright 2018 Wayne Botha Email Wayne Cell: 860.214.4897