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But in reality, vision statements in a project or program can be very impactful, as they lend themselves to collaboration among stakeholders.
As an example, let's look at the Buddha Memorial Center in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
At the heart of this religious center is a relic of the Buddha that avoided destruction when it was snuck out of the country during the 1960s Cultural Revolution. Three decades later, Buddhist monks in India felt the relic should return to Taiwan. For Taiwanese citizens and politicians, as well as Buddhists worldwide, there was a wish to do full justice to the relic and its religion.
Planning for the Buddha Memorial Center began in 1998 when the relic arrived in Taiwan. Construction launched in 2003 and was completed in 2011. During that time, the design for the center changed more than 114 times, growing from 20 to more than 100 hectares (247 acres). Even when construction finished in 2011, the world's largest copper Buddha statue, at 108 meters (354 feet) high, was added to the center in the spring of 2012.
Although it's in every project professional's nature to keep as close to plans as possible, and keep change to a minimum, change management was a key factor to success with the Buddhist Memorial Center project.
The project managers had to be flexible and communicate. Traditional tools and techniques such as 'rolling-wave' and 'fast-track' planning allowed constant change to be embraced.
Program visibility was also important. 'Program visibility' refers to making sure everyone involved is aware of objectives and strategy risks, and that everyone feels involved in the management and its outcome. (Program Management Standard, p14. Doman IV: Stakeholder Management.) In this case, regular meetings were held for all the major stakeholders. The meetings were often open to the public and media, which helped generate even more support.
Meetings are as much about reaching consensus as sharing information. Program visibility also ensures that all stakeholders, from sponsors to workers, share a sense of purpose and commitment.
The lesson learned from building the Buddhist Memorial Center shows how important it is to share your vision for a project or program. Doing so can allow you to create a lasting impact.
How have you made your project or program more visible?
Editor's Note: Photographs taken by Liang Ching Chih.
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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The resort is licensed as a 'build-operate-transfer' (BOT) project. That means that after a lease of 30 years, the site reverts back to state ownership, regardless if the operators break even or make a profit.
The construction of the Wen-Wan Resort took four years to complete, and was finalized in September 2003. Total construction cost of the 92-room resort amounted to US$67 million. Rooms cost between US$1,000 and US$10,000 per night. Internal ROI will likely be met after about 18 to 20 years, which means that in 2023, the resort's operators could start to make a profit.
Program and project managers tend to focus on these quantifiable and measurable objectives. But it can be hard for them to grasp intangible or abstract ideas.
Yet it is the intangible that usually informs the core values of any successful company. The intangible part is what we tend to ignore: the organizational cultures and styles.
In A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) -- Fourth Edition, an organization's shared vision, values, norms, beliefs and expectation is called "organizational cultures and styles." The PMBOK® Guide also says an organization's direction or objectives are usually defined by its enterprise environmental factors.
Take The Wen-Wan Resort, for example. The resort's sponsor and president, Wen-Wan Tang, has a unique background that led him to found and operate the resort in a way that gives pleasure to guests and gives back to society.
Mr. Tang owns more than 20 organizations. He used the profits from these businesses to fund the construction and development of The Wen-Wan Resort. He believes that if you're successful, you should help improve the society that allows you to enjoy to such success.
Mr. Tang sees the resort as a way to help develop the local economy. It not only creates jobs in constructing the resort but also in staffing the resort. Plus, the resort's visitors support local companies and businesses.
In this way, Mr. Tang has shown "organizational cultures and styles" by helping to develop the local economy.
What are your organizational cultures and styles?
Editor's note: Photo courtesy of The Wen-Wen Resort.
What do I mean by synergy? Cross-related projects benefit from efficiency and control when activities are combined rather than performed separately. The exposition is a good example of the kind of synergy that program management should bring -- an example worth considering if you want to manage projects effectively within a program.
The event had an organizing committee, which was set up like a program management office (PMO). Endorsement from the International Association of Horticultural Producers (IAHP) gave the organizing committee the freedom and authority to be effective. IAHP provided the committee with clear objectives, which allowed committee leaders to establish concrete goals for meeting stakeholder expectations.
The exposition involved 377 projects and more than 23,000 participants. With so many stakeholders involved -- all of whom were eager to stage events, exhibitions, shows and displays -- the event's success required all of their coordination and cooperation.
All of these stakeholders' concerns needed to be understood and met. This was only possible through the organizing committee, which worked closely with local tourism and cultural bureaus, as well as the government. The committee had to negotiate, mediate and monitor the projects, and assist the stakeholders to achieve their own benefits, so as to maximize the synergy effect.
But it is not just strong, centralized management that ensures a program's success. The program manger must also correctly identify clear objectives around which individual projects are organized.
As exemplified with IAHP and the committee, objectives of a program can only be defined from top to bottom, which requires a higher level of governance. Once the objectives of a program are set up, every project under the program shall be carried out in accordance with the objectives to ensure alignment between the execution and objectives.
What do you think? Does centralized management ensure a program's success?
Think of the kitchen as the project management office (PMO), menus as the programs and each dish as a project.
The chef is the program manager. The restaurant owner and manager rely on the chef to create the menu, which has to reflect the restaurant's cuisine, but with a range of affordable (yet profitable) dishes. The chef must then supervise and motivate others to cook the dishes.
Cooks are like project managers. They're responsible for executing the dishes designed by the chef and ordered by the customers. Other kitchen staff members are like the project team, helping create each dish successfully.
Restaurant managers are like general managers in a project setting. They coordinate the different arms of the restaurant, supervise the staff, order supplies, take care of the accounts, pay wages and handle customer complaints. However, they rely on the chef to ensure the restaurant is successful.
The restaurant owner, manager and chef meet regularly to discuss business. These discussions are the restaurant equivalent of strategic planning. The chef learns what's required of the menu (or program) and how much money is available to spend on preparing dishes (or projects).
In a lot of companies, the owner, manager and chef are all the same person. Yet many people can't successfully perform all three roles.
The restaurant owner and manager may want to be involved in the cooking, but it's far more effective if they have the support of a properly trained chef.
The same is true in the business world. We need to spend time educating CEOs and general managers about the benefits of working alongside a properly trained program manager.
Then we won't just have great restaurants, but great companies.
What do you think? How does having a defined role of a program manager help organizations?
- They deal with all the different stakeholders
- They guide and advise their project managers.
- They talk with senior management.
But program managers should also be justifying and arguing the long-term benefits of their new projects -- not relying on others to do that for them.
Program managers have a duty to do more than ensure projects under their supervision are completed on time and on budget. Program managers have a lot more authority and opportunity -- and therefore responsibility -- to further the strategic objectives of their organization than a project manager.
Program managers need to realize they're a catalyst -- someone who should be open to new opportunities, ready to explore new business ideas and enable their organization to move forward. From this viewpoint, program managers resemble salespeople. They have a duty to sell a vision for the future to their senior management and all their stakeholders.
What do you think? Should program managers act as salespeople, too?
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Program managers are looking to the future and how best to serve business -- and society -- in a more responsible way.
Global trends in corporate responsibility now include sustainable energy, combining improvements in efficient use of energy and renewable energy sources.
Enterprises that join this trend will likely prosper. Program managers are responsible for aligning an enterprise's business with its long-term strategy, and for sensing emerging trends that need to be embraced.
"Green" technologies, for example, are one such trend program managers should recognize and plan projects and programs around.
Organizations like Nike, Taiwan Telecom, Delta and Corning have recently built "green" factories, for example, using such technologies. If program managers don't follow worldwide trends like this, it will affect the organization's long-term ability to compete and prosper.
In this way, program managers echo the role of the program management office (PMO).
The PMO and the program manager are the main force for business strategy alignment. They adjust the resource allocation and business priorities within projects and programs by launching projects they believe fit the organization's business strategy, and stopping those that don't.
The best that we have to offer in our profession is to be forward-looking and socially responsible. What are you doing to be socially responsible?
Achieving project management objectives relies on the maturity of project management understanding within an organization. It's not about the skills of the individual project manager. Rather it's about the organization's understanding of what is possible with project management.
Apple is one organization making effective use of such maturity. The company has a reputation for delivering quality products by combining superior design with technology -- not focusing solely on innovation.
With the iPhone and other iOS products, Apple gained a larger share of the market -- not by sacrificing its distinction as an organization, but by transforming it.
Apple's product designers balance technology with humanity. While designers are both rewarded and pushed into continually brainstorming, researching and testing new ideas, the focus is on usability and simplicity.
Apple's project teams worked out a way to "make the magic happen" through project management maturity.
Organizational project management coupled with Apple's creative environment paved the way for achieving project successes and organizational objectives.
The project to develop the iPhone grew from the iPod; the App Store grew out of the opportunities the iPhone provided. Their maturity was not only due to Apple's management skills, but grew from developing its own project management methods.
Apple's strategy, fueled by its maturity, allowed these and other projects in the company's portfolio, to be managed with a greater chance of success than its competitors.
As with all well-run organizations, project management maturity facilitates the implementation of ideas.
What do you think? Does project management maturity spark great creativity?
Editor's note: See more on project management maturity.
In the 2006 version of the James Bond film, "Casino Royale," for example, the character named M is responsible for managing military intelligence projects and programs. She has to make the best use of the resources under her governance, whether they are programs or projects. When one of her projects is out of control, she corrects the deviation by removing resources and support -- in this case, from Mr. Bond's personal revenge-oriented task -- because it may not align with the organizational objective.
In the meantime, she also has to define what each operation or action should achieve and in what way. Should it be an interception done secretly by the SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams or a detainment in a sumptuous gambling casino? It all depends on what effects an action aims to achieve and at what costs.
The basis of portfolio management lies in its top-down logic. Depending on what objective you want to reach, you combine the resources and organize the projects and programs to move toward that direction.
When it comes to personal investments, people often combine different products and methods to gain the maximum benefit based on the risks and available financial resources.
Similarly, project portfolio managers consider the resources that should be allocated to projects and programs based on what risks and benefits they can generate for an organization.
Programs and projects sharing similar risks or benefits may be put together for better management. The grouping facilitates decisions on further investments and resource allocation, as well as adjustments amid changing market conditions and organizational strategic plans.
By following effective project portfolio management processes, you can put together a business operation that makes your investment objectives more achievable. Just like M -- but leave the SWAT team at home.
In terms of delivering a benefit or generating a synergistic outcome, program management can help. This is especially true when you're managing interdependent projects.
Say you're running four projects at the same time: a hardware development project, a 3-D character animation project, an exterior design project and a controller project for a game console.
You can indeed manage these four projects separately with shared resources and technologies. But if two of the projects come from the same client, you should have a program.
Or if your company plans to own the game console -- which requires you to produce a product by integrating the deliverables of each individual project -- you need a program.
Take Nintendo's Wii. Development of the console definitely calls for the centralized, coordinated management of a program, or at least, a program-like logic to run it.
Making the Wii requires coordinating the component supply, system coding, and exterior and hardware design, including the controller. There is also storyboard planning for plots and characters for Nintendo-owned licenses to help launch the console, layouts for different language versions, etc.
Of course, the design and production of each specialized component will have to be done through individual projects. Yet they end up being part of a wider program because they are interdependent with all the other components for the final console.
A program is also necessary because to deliver the final console on schedule, a greater degree of governance has to be used. It must ensure that the projects run as planned so individual delays do not hamper the overall output of the program: a finished, completed Wii console.
What do you think? How do you know when program management is your best option?
Let's discuss an example in Taiwan: The country has been pursuing a series of e-government initiatives for some time, including an "e-Business" smart card.
Users insert the card into a reader, which then provides access to more than 30 different online government services. The options include business information, marketing and tax databases, tax return calculation, patent applications -- to name a few.
Business people no longer have to go to government offices, spend time telephoning officials or advisers, or print, collect or post physical documents.
The bottom-line savings are substantial. Over one year, a single business might save US$100. Multiply that by 5 million businesses, and the cost savings are around US$500 million. More importantly, it means businesses have access to information and their government whenever they want it.
This is the "synergy" I'm talking about.
But why does such an initiative have to be run as a program, instead of as multiple projects that need coordination?
In this case, more than 30 projects across different application areas are involved and they share a group of IT and telecom resources. With the need to exchange resources, and communicate both vertically and horizontally, a higher level of governance is needed.
Program managers and project managers have different focuses and see things differently. Program managers are primarily concerned with the coordination among projects, while project managers are primarily concerned with the management of their own projects. But working together, they can create that magical synergy.