From Chapter 1 of The Handbook of Program Management we will clarify Program and Project Management Roles. The role of the program manager is very different than the role of the project manager. (you can watch a video of this newsletter here)
The role of the program manager is very complex; it can vary from managing multiple projects to managing multiple projects with operational responsibilities, in addition to being accountable for profit or cost targets linked to business strategy.
Conversely, the project manager’s role is to deliver the project within the cost and schedule constraints that are usually established at the program level. The program manager is also frequently accountable for the “policy” that defines how the work is accomplished.
Even in environments where a Project Management Office or (PMO) establishes company or organization-wide policy with regard to project management, the program manager often plays a significant role, since this policy directly impacts his or her ability to meet cost targets and business objectives in addition to making sure the company meets program objectives, the program manager must establish a culture that allows his or her project managers to be successful.
The program manager must create, manage, and continually improve the culture that enables successful projects. A program manager is first and foremost a leader. In fact, the program manager’s main leadership duty is to turn chaos into clarity for the team. Any leader who allows chaos to exist or just passes chaos down to the team without clarification, is not exercising leadership.
People need clear direction and circumstances that allow them to be successful.
The program manager must establish such direction both within and outside the organization through a variety of means. Additionally, the program manager may have to accept calculated risk when he or she is unable to obtain clarity from the organization and then define clarity in his or her own terms. Accepting chaos, allowing chaos to exist, or passing down chaos all signal a lack of integrity and this does not create a culture conducive to successful projects.
The primary difference between a program manager and a project manager can be summed up in the words create and comply.
The program manager is responsible for creating the business environment culture the project manager complies with. The degree of the program manager’s direct control of that culture can vary, but through direct authority or organizational influence he or she is responsible for establishing the framework in which the project manager operates.
The project manager ultimately is judged on the triple constraint of time, cost and scope of the project. The program manager also is judged on these three elements but at a level that is cumulative for all the projects and operations within the program. This aggregation of responsibilities for a variety of projects and operations means the program manager must make frequent trade offs between business targets and project/operational performance.
Program management decisions are both tactical and strategic in nature.
The strategy aspects of these decisions must consider multidimensional impacts beyond the near-term delivery dates of the project. Conversely, the project manager is challenged to deliver projects within the boundaries and framework established by the program manager. Typically, the project manager is and should be more delivery and execution focused whereas the program manager has to also be concerned with the overall health and effectiveness of the program over the long term.