Thoughts on Managing Virtual Programs

You know, it is unusual these days to work in an organization or on a program or project where everyone sits in the same area of the same building. A virtual program team, also known as a geographically dispersed program team, is a group of individuals who work across time, space, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology. Members of virtual teams communicate electronically, so they may never actually meet face to face.  Does this sound like where you work?

Virtual program teams require new ways of working across boundaries through systems, processes, technology, and people. These virtual teams require their program managers to put on their practical and creative thinking hats to identify, analyze and overcome about the challenges present in virtual program management as compared to the more traditional, co-located work environment.

 Planning and managing a virtual program is a challenging task for any program manager. Not only will you be stepping through building the contents of your program management plan, you also have to take into account the virtual work environment that impacts your program at multiple levels, such as your governing program board, your program team and the project teams that are the core element of your program’s work.  I find that in a virtual or traditional program environment, I am reminding myself to stay on point.  After all, I have my project managers to manage the project work and escalate issues and concerns to me when necessary.

Engaging and motivating your virtual program team and your virtual project managers and their teams can take some serious effort.  A motivated team typically has an increased commitment to the program objectives. There are a number of ways to motivate the team, including coaching and mentoring activities. Of course, it is always easier to motivate folks when you can speak with them face-to-face versus dealing with them at a distance.  Let’s not forget about those virtual stakeholders, either.  We must communicate with them to learn about, track and prioritize their program issues and concerns.  

The tools and techniques that you use to manage, control and motivate your virtual program team should align well within the governance framework of your program. The term “governance” is derived from Latin origins suggesting the notion of “steering”. In a virtual program context, governance is creating and using a framework to align, organize, and execute your program activities in order to meet the program’s goals. Remember that these activities may be at the program or at the component project or other work level, so you are using a broad brush to select the right tools and techniques that meet your needs and address the distributed work environment you are managing within.

I have found that the biggest difference between a virtual and a traditional “bricks and mortar” program office is in the tools used to get the job done. The processes and the goals of a traditional versus a virtual PMO are very much the same.  The PMO strives to support the program manager and the program management team in managing multiple, unrelated projects as a critical piece of the program infrastructure.  The PMO assists the program manager with defining program management processes and managing the program schedule and budget. Many PMOs also provide document configuration management for the program and centralized support for managing program-level changes and tracking risks and issues. 

Well, those are my thoughts about virtual programs and some of the areas requiring the program manager’s attention. 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 holidays!

Susan Weese

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