The role of program managers has been in transition for some time, and will continue down an evolutionary path in 2018.
Program management is no longer just a process-focused role in an organization responsible for on-time, on-budget and on-scope delivery of projects. As Principal Consultant at Kathleen Hass & Associates Kathleen B. Hass points out, the project managers working within a project are now responsible for driving value for business through projects, and they have to focus more on “creativity, complexity management, continuous delivery and project ROI,” in addition to traditional delivery metrics.
These changes bubble up to the program manager’s role, as well. Here is how we see those changes unfolding over the next few years.
Agility Continues to Impact the Role Of Program Managers
One of the bigger conversations in program management over the last few years has centered around the agile framework and how it can be incorporated into program management, says Joe Kerins, chief defense industry client strategist here at Artemis. Though some organizations, such as Lockheed and Raytheon, have successfully implemented agile, the program management industry in general, Kerins notes, is still trying to figure out how to do agile well.
However, the uncertainty associated with agile has not stopped companies from trying to make the shift. According to the 11th Annual State of Agility Survey by VersionOne, agile has increasingly grown in popularity among organizations over the past decade. But it requires a shift to a collaborative, continuous improvement environment that is having a significant impact on the role of program managers.
The roles and responsibilities of agile program managers must encompass business processes as well as entrepreneurial duties. These are not necessarily the kinds of responsibilities with which program managers have been traditionally involved — often leaving program managers today confused about their roles.
Technology is Helping to Ease the Transition to Agile
By nature, agile requires an easy acceptance and encouragement of change. Program managers working under traditional, change-resistance methodologies often have difficulties in making the switch to agile because of long-standing mindsets and resistance to learning new processes. But there is technology that can help ease the transition.
Often, companies are using multiple software solutions and applications to guide their programs. When implementing agile, changes to programs and projects become overwhelming and difficult with so many different applications to use for a single change. It is not uncommon for projects to need multiple changes before completion, and technology that supports traditional methodologies cannot keep up with a multitude of changes.
The answer to the problem is a single software solution that can make it easy for program managers to make changes. Kerins explains that with a single software program, there is one centralized database from which all data is pulled and recorded. So, once a change is made to the baseline, all future documents are pulled from that same database, and they all have the change incorporated.
Also, Kerins notes, there is an abundance of paperwork that goes along with making changes. Going through multiple programs for approvals and signatures can be laborious. The right software solution can ease the approval process by automating it. Once a change is approved, it is almost instantaneously incorporated. For some companies, this means the difference between a couple of weeks for approval and a couple of hours for approval.
So, with the move toward more a more agile framework in organizations, who exactly are program managers expected to be? Agile is forcing program managers outside of their comfort and knowledge centers, and forcing them to learn new technologies and embody more roles than traditionally called for in program management.
The New Roles Of Program Managers
With the adoption of this more flexible methodology, the role of program managers in the development process has seen a dramatic shift from the focus on process adherence to doing whatever is necessary to get the job done. This shift is requiring program managers to re-evaluate their essential skill sets and foster new skills that allow them to maintain relevance in the agile environment.
Program Managers As Business Analysts
Program managers are being asked to have a firm grasp of the business value their programs should realize. A lot of this pressure is actually coming from the project management level.
Jennifer Bridges, PMP and founder of professional development firm PDUs2Go.com, says that to be successful in this new role, project managers must develop strategic skills and business management skills that help them really understand
- the business they are in,
- how the business ties into the program they are running,
- and how the program will impact the business.
She argues that project managers are going to have to develop business acumen and grasp business models, understand markets and industry trends, build stakeholder relationships, and stay informed of marketing campaigns.
For program managers, this means developing a strategic and analytical mindset to think beyond individual project accomplishments to how a program impacts a business.
This is where earned value management solutions, as discussed in our previous post on why program managers should embrace EVM, can help program managers. Through EVM, program managers can determine the impact of business variables on programs, and make changes when necessary to ensure projects are meeting business objectives. Earned value management allows program managers to glean insights and steer programs to get the most value and ROI for the organization.
Program Managers As Entrepreneurs
Companies are looking for program managers who can adjust to change and think on their feet.
Again, this has filtered up from the project level. Michael Stanleigh, a certified management consultant and chief executive officer of Business Improvement Architects, explains that organizations want project managers who can think quickly and make rapid decisions within a framework that includes “a basket of tools” beyond their traditional skill sets.
For program managers, that means thinking like an entrepreneur — and the right technology makes it easier to do this.
Kerins explains that it is important for program managers to work within an application that combines both cost and schedule information into a single database in near real-time. That way, with an idea for improvement in hand, a program manager can easily and quickly run a “what if” scenario and learn the impact of a change to budget and schedule. Based on those results, a decision can be made instantaneously.
Program managers who can think on their feet and make instantaneous decisions based on real-time data can be more productive and more successful than their counterparts.
Program Managers As Change Managers
Change management has become an essential skill for program managers, especially in increasingly prevalent agile organizations, and these organizations are integrating the two disciplines.
In practice, this means organizations are now expecting one person to be able to serve both roles. Alison Sigmon, a project management professional and expert on the behavioral side of project management, explains that being a change agent means helping stakeholders see the strategic value of a project, even in the face of change, to ensure expectations are aligned and ownership is reaffirmed throughout a project.
Program managers can provide support to project managers by taking a lead in managing project changes, streamlining any cumbersome approval processes and giving relevant stakeholders real-time, collaborative oversight when they need a view into a program’s status.
Program Managers Must Evolve With Their Changing Roles
None of these role adaptations will replace the technical skills necessary for you to do their jobs, but they do require PMs to develop new and different skills that will allow them to succeed under these new expectations. PMs will also need to implement the right technology that enables changes to bring value to projects.
Because of the evolution of the role, program managers should be prepared to play a bigger role in the success of their companies.