The single most important element that I’ve learned through my years of experience starting, managing and rescuing programs is the personnel leading the program. Typically, IT program leaders form part of what is called the program management office (PMO) or integrated program team (IPT). There is usually a significant focus on the program manager position, and having a skilled and experienced person in that role is vital for large, complex IT programs. What is surprising, however, is how many programs set up shop without all of the key management personnel in place.
* IT programs vary greatly, so there is no one model that fits every PMO
Too often, the program manager cannot point to the individuals filling each of those key roles, or too many of the roles are filled by contractor personnel. Many successful systems have been delivered with contractors in a number of these roles. However, if contractors fill most of the roles, the program’s risk increases. It is not that the contractor employees do not possess the necessary competence, and the PMO can certainly include contractor personnel in support roles, but the goal is an integrated PMO, and that goal is difficult to accomplish if contractor personnel hold key roles.
Another key to success is ensuring the involvement of the business organization. It’s crucial to include full-time representatives who can successfully work within the PMO to define the system’s requirements. These individuals should be steeped in the current process end-to-end, have true credibility with senior management, and demonstrate the flexibility to deal with unending change as a program unfolds and matures.
Unfortunately, those crucial individuals are all too often absent in IT programs. The business does not give up its star players to fill those roles. Programs often have specialists in particular business areas but no one with an end-to-end view. This situation impedes a program’s change management process and ultimately affects its schedule and cost. It does not in and of itself doom a program, but it is a predictor of failure.
Finally, all members of the PMO should report to the program manager and should be assessed on a shared set of objectives that support the business goals that created the need for the program. Too often, members of the PMO are measured on process results rather than on business outcomes. Organizations would improve their ability to buy IT substantially if procurement personnel reported to the program managers and were measured not just on following the procurement regulations but on deliverables provided by the contractor and on the success of the program.
My experiences in project and program management have led me to work with Hamid Aougab (he is also an accomplished project and program manager, along with a successful course author and instructor) to create a new course entitled Program Management: Essential Skills for Your Program Success. What has me most excited about this course is that we have worked to embed insights into the course from our many years of experience working on, running, and reviewing programs in both the public and private sectors. We have attempted to create a course that can accelerate an attendee’s learning, providing valuable and practical methods to help establish and effectively manage a program. But further, we offer insights on how to spot programs that are running into trouble, and what steps can be taken to help get them back on track. So many courses present the theory of project and program management — this course represents the opportunity to help establish practical program management actions that can help individuals and organizations demonstrate repeatable success.