Programme Manager, Not a Project Manager

I’ve just had an interesting telephone conversation. A recruitment consultant questioned the role a programme manager performed, stating that basically project manager and programme manager roles are the same, only the latter title is a justification for higher compensation.

An interesting perspective and I can see his point. However, having performed both programme manager and project manager roles numerous times (a project manager on nearly 60 projects to date, programme manager on 9 programmes, each with multiple projects and project managers) there are certain similarities but some big differences, including increased complexity and scale.

What makes a programme manager role different?

Let us look at the programme manager’s responsibilities.  (I have based this on the excellent guidelines produced by the UK Governments Office of Government Commerce (OGC)).

A programme manager’s is responsible, on behalf of the Senior Responsible Owner (the owner of the overall business change and responsible for ensuring that a programme of change meets its objectives and delivers the projected benefits), for successful delivery of the new capability.

The role requires the effective co-ordination of the projects and their inter-dependencies, and any risks and other issues that may arise. The programme manager is responsible for the overall integrity and coherence of the programme, and develops and maintains the programme environment to support each individual project within it.

Specific responsibilities

  • Planning and designing the programme and proactively monitoring its overall progress, resolving issues and initiating corrective action as appropriate;
  • Defining the programme’s governance arrangements;
  • Quality assurance and overall integrity of the programme – focusing inwardly on the internal consistency of the programme; and outwardly on its coherence with infrastructure planning, interfaces with other programmes and corporate technical and specialist standards;
  • Managing the programme’s budget on behalf of the SRO, monitoring the expenditures and costs against delivered and realised benefits as the programme progresses;
  • Facilitating the appointment of individuals to the project delivery teams;
  • Ensuring that the delivery of new products or services from the projects is to the appropriate levels of quality, on time and within budget, in accordance with the programme plan and programme governance arrangements;
  • Ensuring that there is efficient allocation of common resources and skills within the project portfolio;
  • Managing third party contributions to the programme;
  • Managing the communications with all stakeholders;
  • Managing both the dependencies and the interfaces between projects;
  • Managing risks to the programme’s successful outcome;
  • Initiating extra activities and other management interventions wherever gaps in the programme are identified or issues arise;
  • Reporting progress of the programme at regular intervals to the programme director;
  • On large and complex programmes, it may be appropriate to appoint other individuals to support the programme manager for some of the particular responsibilities listed above, for example a risk manager, a communication manager or a financial manager.

Above all the programme manager must have the necessary seniority and credibility to be able to take on the responsibilities required of the role and command respect and provide leadership to the disparate members of the wider-project teams within the programme. Additionally, the programme manager must have attained a mix of skills and attributes representative of the seniority and complexity of the role.  This mix often takes a typical project manager out of his or her comfort zone.

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