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A Different Mindset: From Project To Program Manager

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As a project manager, leading a project to success provides a feeling of accomplishment. Having been successful at several projects, project managers could see becoming a program manager a likely career move.

But when PMO managers were asked about the most critical factors for success, developing the skill sets of project and program managers were an area of concern, according to PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession. As a result, many organizations will renew their focus on talent development, formalizing processes to develop competency.  

In my opinion, developing a program management mindset is a key first step to successfully transitioning to a program management role. For example, moving from the linear world of a single project to the molecular world of programs can be daunting. Plus, you'll face the new experience of leading other project managers.

Here are some practices I have found valuable to adopting a program management mindset:

1. Think big picture  
A common misperception about programs is when they are viewed as one big project. Keep in mind that a program is an interconnected set of projects that also has links to business stakeholders and other projects. Adopt a 'big picture' attitude to the overall program and avoid fixating on a single project's details.

2. Create a project manager trust model  
As a project manager, you develop trust with individual contributors performing delivery activities. As a program manager, you have to develop trust with project managers. Create a common interaction framework with every project manager for progress reporting, resource management, etc.

3. Encourage project managers to say "so what?"
As a program manager, you will deal with additional reports, metrics and other information that you didn't experience as a project manager. Encourage your project managers to start dialogs with "so what" outcomes. This will get right to the direct impact on the program. Have them support these outcomes with relevant information from their reports, dashboards and metrics.    

4. Establish credibility with business leaders   
With programs, customers are typically in business functions. Immerse yourself and your project managers in their business. Training, site visits and status meetings held at business locations are good ways to immerse your team in the customer's business.

5. Develop long-distance forecasting skills
Forecasting several weeks in the future is satisfactory with a project. However, a program with projects moving at different speeds and directions requires a longer forecast horizon. Set your forecast precision in terms of months, not weeks. In addition, look for multi-project forecasting considerations such as holiday blackout periods and external project dependencies.   

What have you found effective to make the mental leap from project manager to program manager?

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3 Comments

These "skills" to develop a program management mindset are too broad and can be applied for really anything, including developing a project management mindset.

Some of them are also related to how much leeway you are given (as a program manager) by your organization.

Greetings Bolakale...thanks for the inquiry.

Having the experience of managing many projects gives you a good foundation for moving towards a role as a program manager, especially so if they are complex, have global teams, etc. However I have seen some project managers not make the transition to program managers, primarily due to attempting to apply project management activities at the program level.

A few other thoughts that would help position you for a program mgt role;

+ Look for larger projects where you can lead other project managers/have a large number of stakeholders

+ Read as much program management content within the PMI body of knowledge

+ Talk to program managers about differences they see between project and program management

+ Lead a project that involves some portion of program management; e.g. setting up a portfolio management or executive reporting function

Good luck in your journey to become a program manager!

Having managed many projects as a Project manager before does this makes a person capable of turning to a programme manager?

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