Planning Your Program

Planning a program is a challenging task for any program manager. Many times you find yourself stepping through building the contents of your program management plan as well as taking into account the work environment that impacts your program at multiple levels: the program board, the program team and the project teams. Most programs these days seem to be much more virtual in nature than they used to be!  PMI’s Standard for Program Management provides an excellent resource for getting the job done.  Let’s have a closer look at what we should be doing as part of program planning.

Get ready, all you program managers.  The Shewart cycle is now in play – first you plan what you and your team are going to accomplish, and then you go get the job done. During planning it may appear that other program management knowledge areas and processes aren’t important.  That’s not the case. Program planning simply requires us to focus our efforts on getting the initial program planning work completed in a distributed work environment.

You start the more detailed program planning as part of the program setup phase of the program life cycle.  I know you aren’t doing the actual program work yet, but you sure are getting closer to starting it as you and your team plan what needs to be done. While there are many areas to be covered as part of planning, make sure you focus on the key ones: risks, schedule, resources and the component projects of our virtual program.

Planning a program and its component projects includes several tasks. First, you develop a detailed Program Scope Statement and create a Program Work Breakdown Structure (PWBS) for the scope of program work.  The Program scope incorporates the program vision, objectives, out-of-scope items, schedule, financial milestones, and any legal/regulatory/safety concerns. The PWBS determines your program deliverables and tasks. It also aligns acceptance criteria for deliverables across phases and projects with the program objectives. The PWBS allows you to manage inter-project linkages and dependencies and to analyze any requirements at the project level.

You should establish the Program Management Plan and then optimize that program plan and its contents. Your Project Management Information System (PMIS) must be established as well.  The PMIS provides you with an automated system used by the program management team to aid in executing the program management plan.  In a virtual environment, remember that your PMIS will be your mainstay for communications, document reviews, configuration management and a host of other activities that keep everyone on the program connected and informed regardless of their location.

The program management plan becomes your basis for managing and controlling your virtual program and its components.  After all, the program management plan is the tactical means by which your virtual program will be carried out.  Within the program management plan are other document components and subsidiary plans that define and drive all aspects of managing the program. In addition to the program roadmap, scope statement, and schedule, the Standard for Program Management recommends that your program management plan contain the following things:

  • Program governance plan, describing program governance goals, structure, roles, responsibilities and logistics 
  • Benefits realization plan, documenting business benefits and the plan for realizing those benefits
  • Program stakeholder management plan, planning how to identify, analyze, engage and manage program stakeholders
  • Program communications management plan, determining information and communications needs of program stakeholders
  • Program financial plan, creating processes to develop and manage program budget and component payments
  • Program contracts management plan, planning for contract administration of significant purchases or acquisitions
  • Program scope management plan, documenting how scope will be managed throughout the program
  • Program procurement management plan, describing the activities and deliverables needed to define, integrate and coordinate program procurement
  • Program quality management plan, identifying and communicating program-level quality standards versus component-level quality assurance and control activities
  • Program risk management plan, identifying how to approach and conduct program risk management activities
  • Program schedule management plan, identifying the agreed sequence of program components deliveries and allowing the components to be planned and managed

Each of your subsidiary plans must be developed to address your program environment whether it is virtual, traditional or a combination of the two. For example, the communications plan will require enhancements to address your virtual team members and stakeholders. The financial plan may have additional costs for communications and travel expenses.  The schedule may contain additional time for virtual meetings, communications and travel.

Expect to update your program management plan frequently as new projects or other components are initiated or completed and as things change over time.  In a virtual program, this rate of update may be accelerated by other factors such as communications challenges, additional risks and other changes that may be difficult for the program manager to monitor and control from a distance. The program manager does not typically plan the component projects – this is done by the project managers at the next level down in the management food chain.

Well, those are my thoughts about planning your programs! Program managers, fine-tune your program management skills and knowledge by spending some serious time with the Standard for Program Management and learning more about the subject while preparing for your PgMP certification exam with Learning Tree’s course:  Preparing for the Program Management Professional (PgMP)® Exam

Happy program planning!

Susan Weese

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