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Program management or programme management is the process of managing several related projects, often with the intention of improving an organization's performance. In practice and in its aims it is often closely related to Systems engineering.

There are two different views of how programs differ from projects. On one view, projects deliver outputs; programs create outcomes.[1]. On this view, a project might deliver a new factory, hospital or IT system. By combining these projects with other deliverables and changes, their programs might deliver increased income from a new product, shorter waiting lists at the hospital or reduced operating costs due to improved technology. The other view[2] is that a program is nothing more than either a large project or a set (or portfolio) of projects. On this second view, the point of having a program is to exploit economies of scale and to reduce coordination costs and risks. The project manager's job is to ensure that their project succeeds. The programme manager, on the other hand, may not care about individual projects, but is concerned with the aggregate result or end-state. For example, in a financial institution a programme may include one project that is designed to take advantage of a rising market, and another to protect against the downside of a falling market. These projects are opposites with respect to their success conditions, but they fit together in the same programme.

According to the view that programs deliver outcomes but projects deliver outputs, program management is concerned with doing the right projects, whereas project management is about doing projects right. And also according to this view, successful projects deliver on time, to budget and to specification, whereas successful programmes deliver long term improvements to an organization. Improvements are usually identified through benefits. An organization should select the group of programs that most take it towards its strategic aims whilst remaining within its capacity to deliver the changes. On the other hand, the view that programs are simply large projects or a set of projects allows that a program may need to deliver tangible benefits quickly.

Consider the following set of projects:

  • design of the new product - this delivers a design specification,
  • modifications to the production line or factory - delivers a manufacturing capability,
  • marketing - delivers advertisements, brochures and pamphlets,
  • staff training - delivers staff trained to sell and support the new product.

One view has it that these are different projects within a program. But in practice they can just as well be managed as sub-projects within a single project. Which approach to choose? Programme and project management are both practical disciplines, and the answer to such a question must be "whatever works." What works depends very much on the nature of the organization in which the project or program is run. Typically a program is broken down into projects that reflect the organization's structure. The design project will be run by the design team, the factory will manage the modifications to the production line, and so on. Organizational structure and organizational culture are key factors in how to structure a program.

The distinction between the terms "outcome" and "output" is far from clear, except in a trivial sense. Each of the projects listed in the example above is designed to deliver some 'thing', known as a 'deliverable' or an 'output', and together they improve the organization. Where one draws the line between the complete single benefit that causes the improvement and its component parts is partly a matter of preference and partly a matter of the culture and structure of the organization. Either way, benefits will normally be enjoyed long after the end of the program and all of its component projects. The point is that to achieve maximum benefits, there must be an integration of parts into a whole. Whether this integration is managed in something that is called a project or a programme is of secondary importance to understanding the benefits and managing the process of integration well.

Many programs are concerned with delivering a capability to change. Only when that capability is transferred to the line management and utilized by the host organization will the benefits actually be delivered. On this view, a program team cannot, on their own, deliver benefits. Benefits can only be delivered through the utilization of a new capability.

Programs are normally designed to deliver the organization's strategy, such as an ambition to be the fourth biggest supermarket in a region by 2015 or reduce wastage by 5% in two year's time.

Program management also emphasises the coordinating and prioritizing of resources across projects, managing links between the projects and the overall costs and risks of the program.

Program management may provide a layer above the management of projects and focuses on selecting the best group of projects, defining them in terms of their objectives and providing an environment where projects can be run successfully. Program managers should not micromanage, but should leave project management to the project managers.

The UK government, through the Office of Government Commerce, has invested heavily in program management. In public sector work in Europe, the term normally refers to multiple change projects: projects that are designed to deliver benefits to the host organization. An alternative to the Office of Government Commerce's methodology for program management is that of the private sector Project Management Institute.

Many organizations only run one program at a time, a program containing all their projects. Some larger organizations may have multiple programs each designed to deliver a range of improvements. Some organizations use the concept of Systems Engineering where others use program management.

Key factors[edit | edit source]

The structure, process, and procedure to control operations and changes to performance objectives. Governance must include a set of metrics to indicate the health and progress of the Programme in the most vital areas.
The program must support a higher level vision, goals and objectives.
Verify and validate the program, ensuring adherence to standards and alignment with the vision.
Ensure there are regular reviews, there is accountability, and that management of projects, stakeholders and suppliers is in place.
Ensure that component parts fit together properly to make the intended whole. Optimize performance across the program value chain, functionally and technically.
Track basic costs together with wider costs of administering the program.
Allocation of resources influences the cost and success of the program. Infrastructure might cover offices, version control, and IT.
Develop the plan bringing together the information on projects, resources, timescales, monitoring and control.[3]
Continuously assess performance; research and develop new capabilities; and systemically apply learning and knowledge to the program.

Differences from project management[edit | edit source]

The key difference between a program and a project is the finite nature of a project[4] - a project must always have a specific end date, else it is an ongoing program.

One view of the differences between an program and a project in business is that:

  1. A project is unique and is of definite duration. A program is ongoing and implemented within a business to consistently achieve certain results for the business.
  2. A project is designed to deliver an output or deliverable and its success will be in terms of delivering the right output at the right time and to the right cost.
  3. Program management includes management of projects which, together, improve the performance of the organization. A program's success will be measured in terms of benefits.
  4. Benefits are the measures of improvement of an organization and might include increased income, increased profits, decreased costs, reduced wastage or environmental damage, more satisfied customers. In central or local government organizations, benefits might include providing a better service to the community.
  5. In the course of achieving required results, business programs will normally understand related business constraints and determine the processes required to achieve results based on resources allocated. Improvement of processes is a continuous operation that very much contrasts a program from a project.
  6. At the lowest level project managers co-ordinate individual projects. They are overseen by the program manager who accounts to the program sponsor (or board).
  7. There will normally be a process to change the predetermined scope of a project. Programs often have to react to changes in strategy and changes in the environment in which the organization changes.

Another view and another successful way of managing does not see any of the factors listed above as distinguishing projects from programs, but rather sees the program as being about portfolio management. On this view, program management is about selecting projects, adjusting the speed at which they run, and adjusting their scope, in order to maximize the value of the portfolio as a whole, and as economic or other external conditions change.

Yet another view is that a program management is nothing more than a large, complex project, where the integration aspect of project management is more important than in smaller projects. Integration management is a key feature of the Project Management Institute's approach to project management.

In practice it is not clear that there is such a clear-cut distinction. Projects (or programs) vary from small and simple to large and complex, what needs to be a managed as a program in one culture or organization may be managed as a project in another.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The Gower Handbook of Programme Management
  2. The Definitive Guide to Project Management. Nokes, Sebastian. London (Financial Times / Prentice Hall): 2007
  3. Managing Successful Programmes, Rob Sowden et al. (TSO, 2007), p156
  4. Prieto, Robert, How Program Management Differs from Project Management, PM Hut. Accessed 17. Oct 2009.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • APM Introduction to Programme Management. ISBN: 978-1-903494-63-9
  • The Definitive Guide to Project Management. Nokes, Sebastian. 2nd Ed.n. London (Financial Times / Prentice Hall): 2007. ISBN: 978 0 273 71097.[1]
  • The Standard for Program Management—Second Edition. Project Management Institute. ISBN 978 1 933 89052 4.[2]
  • Reiss, Geoff; Malcolm Anthony, John Chapman, Geof Leigh, Adrian Pyne and Paul Rayner. Gower Handbook of Programme Management. ISBN: 978-0-566-08603-8
  • Managing Successful Programmes. The Stationery Office. ISBN: 9780113310401

External links[edit | edit source]

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