A Complete Guide to Effective Program Management

April 12, 2017

By John Knox | Harkcon’s Senior Program Manager


In my January blog post entitled “How to tell the difference between Programs and Projects"

(http://harkcon.blogspot.com/2017/01/how-to-tell-difference-between-programs.html), we discussed the differences between programs versus projects.  Recall the program manager has a broad, strategic view of the entire program and all projects within it, while the project manager is specifically focused on the outcomes of a particular project.  


We will now focus on some key competencies for effective program management.  These are derived from the Levin-Ward Program Management Competency Model, which consists of six performance competencies and eight personal competencies.


Program Management Performance Competencies (derived source: Levin-Ward PgM Competency Model)


The following process focused program management competencies align with the 


PMBOK® Guide


Defining the Program – An effective program manager ensures the program objectives are aligned with the organization, and develops a program business case, program charter, and a plan to initiate the program.


Initiating the Program – An effective program manager documents the program vision and benefits to the organization, and ensures stakeholders understand these benefits.  This includes preparing a high-level estimate of the program’s cost, schedule, key resources, and getting approval of the program charter.


Planning the Program – An effective program manager prepares and receives approval of the program management plan, program work breakdown structure, program risk management plan, program communications management plan, program stakeholder management plan, program change management plan, program quality management plan, and documents the interrelationships between the projects supporting the program.


Executing the Program – An effective program manager executes the program management plan, and works closely with the project managers to initiate, plan, and execute the projects within program; and coordinates shared resources supporting multiple projects within the program.  Additionally, an effective program manager employs the program communications management plan and stakeholder management plan to facilitate effective communication at all levels vertically and horizontally within the program.   An effective program manager documents and manages program risk via the program risk management plan.


Monitoring and Controlling the Program – An effective program manager analyzes cost, schedule, and quality of projects within the program, determines any variances, and works with the project managements and stakeholders to remedy situations.  Additionally, an effective program manager develops accurate cost and schedule forecasts.  An effective program manager ultimately ensures that all stated program benefits are being realized through the execution of the program and projects within the program.


Closing the Program – An effective program manager ensures all program closeout processes are completed, including all contract documents, final stakeholder reviews, transfer/receipt of all deliverables, and documenting lessons learned.  Also, an effective program manager will archive key program documents for future re-use


Program Management Personal Competencies (derived source: Levin-Ward PgM Competency Model)


Combined with the above process-centric competencies, the following personal competencies are paramount towards successfully enabling these processes.  You cannot have one without the other.


Communicating – An effective program manager actively listens, uses all communications channels, ensures quality of information, tailors the information for the audience, and responds to stakeholders.


Leading – An effective program manager understands and implements the program’s vision, assumes ownership of the program, establishes the program’s direction, realizes the interdependencies of the projects within the program, and ensures the program’s project managers understand how their projects fits into the program’s importance.


Building Relationships – An effective program manager leverages their interpersonal skills and works to build strong trust between all stakeholders, including all the various projects’ clients and all team members.  An effective program manager must demonstrate high integrity and strong ethics at all times – no exceptions.  An effective program manager ensures that all stakeholders are treated with the greatest respect.   Trust is paramount.


Negotiating – An effective program manager coordinates with all stakeholders to ensure that all resources are in place and available for program success.  An effective program manager must be able to effectively negotiate resources and help impacted stakeholders understand tradeoffs impacting requirements with respect to cost, quality, and schedule.  An effective program manager helps all stakeholders understand “what’s in it for me?”


Thinking Critically – An effective program manager analyzes all available data to understand, verify, and validate issues, trends, and any variances.  This is vital to ensure that decisions are made employing facts and are not based solely in anecdotal information or opinions.  An effective program manager recognizes that everything in the program is connected to everything else within the program.


Facilitating – An effective program manager takes all steps possible to ensure that all stakeholders are aligned during all phases of projects within the program, that all issues are collaboratively resolved, and that all team members work together to accomplish the goals of the program and all supporting projects.


Mentoring – An effective program manager is available to all project managers within the program and all team members.  An effective program manager mentors project managers, and takes initiative to ensure project managers mentor their project team members.  An effective program manager recognizes and rewards accomplishments.


Embracing Change – An effective program manager is open to change and innovation.   A successful program manager must be able to evaluate impacts of change, communicate these impacts, and develop an effective change management plan.   


Learn and apply these key performance competencies and personal competencies; and you will become a more effective program manager. If you would like to contact the author of this blog, send an email to blog@harkcon.com and reference the title, "A Complete Guide to Effective Program Management.”



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