What is a programme manager role in the real world?

What is a programme manager role in the real world? Certainly having performed the role in several organisations there appear to be no hard and fast rules in what the role encompasses. Even guidelines within an organisation appear fluid. I have also come across organisations that have positions with programme manager titles, but bear little or no resemblance to what the various governing bodies (Association for Project Management (APM), Project Management Institute (PMI), etc.) define it as.

I’m curious to understand why there is such disparity between concept and the real world.

According to the APM’s Body of Knowledge 6th Edition, programme management is “the coordinated management of projects and change management activities to achieve beneficial change”. The latest Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) 2011 Glossary of Terms and Definitions describes programme management as “the coordinated organization, direction and implementation of a dossier of projects and transformation activities (i.e. the programme) to achieve outcomes and realize benefits of strategic importance”. Managing Successful Programmes goes on to describe the programme manager as “the role responsible for the set-up, management and delivery of the programme, typically allocated to a single individual”.

In broad terms this is true in terms of most programme manager roles. But I have seen that the programme manager is often given more expansive accountabilities and responsibilities.

Also it is dependent on the differing views of what a “programme” actually is. This changes from organisation to organisation. So the role of the programme manager varies accordingly.

According to the APM’s Body of Knowledge 6th Edition, a programme is “a group of related projects and change management activities that together achieve beneficial change for an organisation”. PMI define a programme as “a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Programs may include elements of related work (e.g., ongoing operations) outside the scope of the discrete projects in a program”.

Generally organisations adopt these definitions as their general approach to programmes.

With this in mind, programme managers need a range of expertise and competencies.

So what does a programme manager role look like in the real world?

I’ve been researching the market place for programme managers for several years (a great way to spot trends across a multitude of industries). Here are some of the essential elements required (in no particular order):

  • Delivery of a portfolio of business transformation projects, ensuring that they are delivered to time, quality and cost objectives;
  • Lead organisation wide initiatives, plus manage a portfolio of change projects, as well as a project team;
  • Drive programme through to conclusion in a dynamic and challenging environments;
  • Provide advice and recommendations to the Programme Director (or Sponsor) to ensure effective programme delivery;
  • Plan out and lead the programme;
  • Project planning – managing and communicating both high level and detailed plans;
  • Maintain a delivery-focused relationship with project leads/managers;
  • Monitor, review and prioritise work schedules with project leads/managers;
  • Produce briefing documents and deliver effective presentations to varied audiences, from delivery teams through to Executive management;
  • Lead activities across simultaneous multiple project work streams;
  • Operate strategically to identifying risks and issues;
  • Manage projects and programme with delivery budgets in excess of £Xm;
  • Project accounting – managing and reporting project costs;
  • Recruitment of project delivery teams (in particular, recruitment of business change team);
  • Leadership and motivation of project delivery teams;
  • Cross-functional working capabilities;
  • Relationship building across all functions/levels;
  • Stakeholder management from end user to Board level;
  • Communication at an Executive level;
  • Benefits tracking – responsible for tracking and reporting the delivery of business benefits;
  • Project controls – managing and reporting change, risks and issues;
  • Programme reporting, to Board/Executive level;
  • Ensure compliance to PRINCE2/PMI based project management methodology;
  • Develop business cases, with input from business sponsors, for change requests and new IT requirements;
  • Actively support and adhere to security policies, with particular emphasis on the protection of sensitive customer information;
  • Actively support and adhere to compliance policies;
  • Work as a member of the IT leadership team to ensure projects are effectively resourced and supported by IT;
  • Personal tenacity to deliver in an often challenging and demanding environment.

I also see the programme manager as being the “safe pair of hands” the Board/Executive team relies on. A person who will ensure that the benefits will get delivered, who will negotiate the varied power structures of the organisation to overcome all obstacles, leading and inspiring the whole programme team and managing the relationships up and down the command structure. The programme manager should also act as a virtual umbrella protecting those within his/her programme to ensure they stay focused on delivery rather than getting bogged down in conflicting pressures from non-programme areas.

One response to “What is a programme manager role in the real world?

  1. Pingback: Real world programme managers | PPMpractitioner·

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