Posts Tagged ‘Programs’

PostHeaderIcon Program Management Essentials

The world is (slowly) moving toward a shared understanding of the term “program”. There are still widely varying interpretations of project vs program but the most common themes are that programs typically drive significant strategic change, involve the integration and coordination of multiple component projects (and sometimes non-project work too), and focus on outcomes rather than outputs.

Alignment and Integration

Where all these criteria are fulfilled, major problems arise when the program is treated simply as a large project, meaning that planning and oversight is overly tactical to the detriment of the more strategic activity necessary for program success (see Big Programs, Basic Flaws).

Seven Key Elements

Ensuring the program delivers what was intended requires special emphasis given to areas such as strategic alignment, stakeholder management, scope and schedule integration, and benefits planning.

The following major elements of program management help provide appropriate focus:

1 – Business Case

Programs should have a well-articulated justification for the investment, that centers on the estimated costs of implementation and ongoing operations against the anticipated benefits to be gained and offset by the associated risks.  The business case lays out the strategic context of the program and shapes its overall mission and vision. Once approved, the business case provides a point of reference throughout the program (updated as necessary) in order to ensure a continued business rationale for the initiative.

2 – Program Organization

This should comprise a single program manager with unambiguous reporting lines to an executive steering committee (program board) that adequately reflects major stakeholder interests, budgetary control and resourcing. Other advisory committees may be set up to review and guide specific aspects of the program but the board always has ultimate decision-making authority. The program manager should have ready access to an individual program sponsor to resolve issues and obtain guidance not requiring involvement of the other board members.

3 – Stakeholder Alignment

The sheer scale of a program will usually infer involvement of many parties with vested interests. Stakeholder analysis will help to identify individual concerns and parties needing the greatest attention, and subsequently define appropriate response strategies. It also assists in identifying risks associated with (real or perceived) negative outcomes. Properly managing relationships with key stakeholders requires detailed communication plans and, (sometimes forgotten), ensuring adequate time and effort is expended in acting on those plans.

4 – Benefits Realization Plan

Since programs focus on outcomes (vs. projects which focus on outputs), a core element of program setup is the development of a plan that (a) assigns metrics to identified benefits, (b) forecasts when and how those benefits will be realized and (c) maps program deliverables to the benefits which are in turn linked to program objectives. This helps ensure that assumptions in how each benefit will be realized are validated and that all required deliverables are clearly identified.

5 – Program Architecture

The program architecture identifies component projects and the major interfaces between them. A vital aspect of developing the architecture is scope integration, whereby the boundaries of each component are validated to ensure that program objectives can be fulfilled without gaps or overlapping effort among the constituent projects. A high-level program roadmap is an important tool in depicting anticipated sequencing of the projects, target dates for key interfaces, review/approval gates and other milestones, and successive stages of funding.

6 – Integrated Master Schedule

An effective integrated master schedule (IMS) consolidates all component project schedules and links them at the task level with specific, clearly defined interfaces with explicit completion criteria. Depending on the schedule criticality, the use of simulation tools and optimization techniques are often essential tools to properly manage schedule risk and greatly increase credibility of the plan and confidence.  The IMS re-validates the program roadmap and benefits plan and together with an interface tracking log will therefore provide the basis for much of the program manager’s performance monitoring focus during program execution.

7 – Tiered Governance

While project managers within the program will typically track progress against schedule, cost and technical performance, the program manager needs to ensure not only proper roll-up of this data (possibly via a program office) to control overall program progress but also to implement tracking of benefit metrics, as per the benefits realization plan. A well-designed program dashboard reflects both types of metric to provide the board with a holistic view of both the strategic and tactical performance aspects of the program.

PostHeaderIcon Big Programs, Basic Flaws

Flaws cause failures

Conducting and reading through assessments of  various programs highlights how complexity in large scale initiatives can distract and divert focus from doing the basics. Several factors can contribute to this but the end result is the same- an out-of-control program with impacts exacerbated by its sheer size.

For example, recent audits of half a billion dollars worth of government programs in the state of Queensland (AUS) highlight a multitude of major issues resulting in spiraling costs, runaway schedules, unrealized benefits and irate stakeholders.

Its a sobering read; particularly striking, given the nature of the initiatives, is the apparent failure to attend to program management fundamentals. Here are a few summarized findings from the various programs assessed:

No Business Case

An approved business case that clearly identified the benefits to be realised could not be identified. There was no periodic review of the business needs.

Lack of Proper Governance

A program board with adequate stakeholder representation, that had the authority to drive the program forward and to deliver the outcomes and benefits, was not in place since the program began.

No Benefits Management Plan

There was no benefits management plan to consolidate benefits measures for all stakeholders impacted by the program. There was no method of identifying, recording, tracking and reporting demonstrable benefits for the program.

Lack of Integration

From a program perspective, it appeared to be a series of separate projects rather than a coordinated program.

Inadequate Program Metrics

Many of the controls within all three programs were typical of a project management scheme to manage schedules, capabilities and costs. The baselines, recording, monitoring and reporting of benefits did not form part of program documentation.

Program Management Fundamentals

While these findings relate to a few specific programs, they are symptomatic of common issues in program management, namely, that program planning and oversight is often at too tactical a level. Successful program management is founded on the themes of:

  • Strategic Alignment
    Ensuring a clear and ongoing linkage of program objectives and scope with the organization’s strategic objectives
  • Stakeholder Management
    Aligning the expectations and interests of all key stakeholders to promote their ongoing support and ensure success criteria are unanimously understood
  • Program Governance
    Developing an integrated program master-plan that links all component projects both tactically (tasks) and strategically (business goals), implemented within the framework of an unambiguous program organization structure
  • Benefits Management
    Defining anticipated benefits early and mapping them explicitly to program scope and objectives, and subsequently forecasting and tracking their realization.  

Ignoring these core considerations is to disregard the fundamentals of good program management.

PostHeaderIcon Connecting Strategy and Tactics

The great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu had it pretty much spot on:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Having a great strategy isn’t worth a whole lot to anyone unless it’s backed up by solid tactical execution capability – which means project management.  And no matter how good the project managers are, individual excellence in project planning and control won’t overcome cross-project resource overallocations and poor outcomes if projects are not strategically aligned and properly prioritized. The trick therefore is to unite the two in a strategic implementation framework.

The Missing Link

Properly connecting strategy and tactics involves the disciplines of portfolio and program management. This crucial linkage – often missing or incomplete – bridges the gap between the promise of strategy and the actuality of operational results. Portfolio management, most importantly, establishes executive oversight for project selection, project prioritization (see Project Prioritization Criteria), funding and resource allocation (see The Goals of Portfolio Management). Program management provides the governance and architecture for defining, planning and controlling broad strategic initiatives comprised of interdependent projects (see Project or Program).

Important Questions

The hard part of course is putting this all into practice. A few fundamental questions can help maintain the right focus; for example:

  • Do we know how strongly each declared strategy is supported by our current projects?
  • Do we believe we have the optimal mix of projects to fulfill our strategy – taking account of various business needs, execution constraints and operational imperatives?
  • Do our strategic programs clearly lay out the relationship between objectives, projects, deliverables and benefits?
  • Is each program properly coordinating the component projects using a single integrated master plan?
  • Are cross-project resource contentions identified in advance and resolved proactively before progress is impacted?
  • Have success metrics been identified for projects, for programs and for portfolios, and are they being tracked and reported systematically?

PostHeaderIcon Project Management Maturity Models

Stages of Maturity... depending on how you measure it

Looking for a means of assessing your organization’s project management capability? Maturity models can provide a useful frame of reference and there are plenty of models out there – home-grown in-house models, proprietary models devised by consultancies and training firms, and models developed by project management standards and certification bodies.

Look before you Leap

Unsurprisingly perhaps, not all models are created equal – some are far more useful than others – so here are a few important questions to help ensure real value is delivered:

1 – Does the model provide direct input to a capability development roadmap?

There’s no point doing a maturity assessment if it does not result in an actionable plan for improvement; a well-defined, specific, accurate development roadmap should be derived directly from the assessment model and constitute the final deliverable from an effective maturity evaluation.

2 – Are elements of project, program and portfolio management appropriately represented in the model?

For most organizations, project management capability is dependent on practices in all three of these disciplines, not just the first. Few models give adequate coverage to portfolio and program management; most lack proper process frameworks in these domains and some consider portfolio applies only at higher levels of maturity – both of which result in incomplete and misleading assessments.

3 – Are people skills and toolsets properly evaluated as well as processes?

An assessment of maturity is only valid if it includes a fair evaluation of project management awareness and knowledge (such as through interviews and surveys), its application through tools and templates, and the artifacts that result. The breadth, depth, suitability and quality of know-how, supporting tools and project documentation should all be rated across each of the project, program and portfolio disciplines.

4 – Does the model provide for appropriate discounting of non-relevant areas?

Not all organizations have the same needs; for example, deeper aspects of project planning and control may be of little importance in some research or non-complex service environments; conversely, many components of portfolio management will be unnecessary to an organization that only performs 1 or 2 major construction projects per year.

5 – Does the model assess a reasonable number of maturity attributes and capability indicators?

Too few indicators are likely to omit key areas; too many will result in data overload and an implausible development roadmap; OPM3 from the PMI is a case in point with a ridiculously impractical base model of 488 best practices.  Accurate results and effective improvement plans have more to do with striking a balance between model detail and experienced application rather than analysis-paralysis.

Shaping the Future

Maturity models, combined with their associated assessment techniques and action-oriented outcomes, can offer the best basis for shaping project environments – but only if properly designed and entrusted to experienced hands.

PostHeaderIcon Project or Program?

Is my project actually a program? Its a question sometimes asked by project managers unsure of whether their project has the right management approach. Oftentimes it is the lack of a clear distinction between the terms “project” and “program” that causes confusion. While “program” is usually associated with an initiative of larger scale, size alone is an inadequate differentiator – there are plenty of large projects that do not necessarily require program management practices.

The Project-Program Continuum

In reality we cannot easily draw a line between the two since the project-program transition occurs on a continuum, not a discrete point of separation.  Also, this continuum really comprises a number of parameters beyond natural considerations of size and cost – the graphic below may help to clarify:

Mapping an initiative against each of these factors may provide some guidance as to how it should be managed.  The more scores to the right side, the more likely that program planning, control and oversight methods would be appropriate.

Ultimately, a key question to ask is: “Can we obtain better control and better outcomes by managing as a program?”

PostHeaderIcon Interface Definition – The Essentials

PMI gives only scant coverage to interfaces (inter-project or external dependencies) in its Standard for Program Management. However, mis-managed interfaces have the potential to cause days or even weeks of delays and consequently wreak havoc with schedules – and often do.

Effective interface management involves full and complete interface definition. A good list of defining attributes would include the following:

Outputs don't always match input requirements

Outputs don't always match input requirements

  • Interface name
    (unique naming and identification)
  • Interface description
    (nature and purpose of the interface)
  • Output source
    (which sub-project supplies the output)
  • Output owner
    (who is accountable for the output)
  • Input receiver
    (which sub-project is the ‘customer’ for the output)
  • Input owner
    (who is accountable for receiving the input)
  • Completion criteria
    (what the interface ‘looks like’ when its done)
  • Date constraints
    (if applicable)

The completion criteria should be defined as a checklist of requirements from the input owner. He/she will then use these as the basis for full acceptance of the interface as ‘done’ or ‘not done’.