Project (Outputs) v Programme Management (Outcomes)

Having a discussion a week or two back with the head of a PMO and the idea of whether I would like to take on a large project with great travel perks (e.g 2-3 trips to Australia next year). After some serious thought I had to turn it down. Why? I suddenly realised that I am no longer a Project Manager. Sure I still know how to manage projects and don’t think those skills ever go away. Actually I still use most of them daily. The difference is in my focus. It has been a gradual shift over a couple of years from output to outcome, from project to programme manager.

What do i mean by that? Well, as a project manager your focus is on the outputs of the project, the requirements, the designs and the end product being delivered to the client. This doesn’t change no matter what industry you work in. As a programme manager you don’t focus on those things. I’m not saying they aren’t important, they are. It’s just that its not the right focus for a programme manager.

A programme manager has to focus on the value that is being delivered to the client often through multiple interrelated (sometimes very loosely) projects. A project manager does not normally have the time to dedicate to the co-ordination of these projects and nor should they as it only distracts them from their job at hand.

A programme manager should also act as the first point of escalation for those things that can’t be resolved within the project, e.g. Resource contention between projects is quite frequently a blocker for a project that needs outside intervention to clear. If its between two projects in the same programme the programme manager can make the call. If the other project is outside of the programme then the programme manager can negotiate with the business to have the priority set and the impact (on time & cost) accepted or to argue the need for additional resource. This frees up the project manager to concentrate on delivering.

A programme manager will employ most of the skills used in project management, negotiation, planning, diplomacy and creativity (it’s not all about MS Project!) so a good grounding in project management is beneficial. However, as I said above a, programme is all about the value to the business and as such is not bound to a methodology. Indeed various methodologies can be employed within a single programme. It’s a case of what ever fits the project best, the only concern for the programme manager should be that the end product delivers the expected value to the business. The rest is down to the project manager.

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