Program management software is great. It allows you to roll up your portfolio of projects into one central location and categorize them by type, such as organization, customer, etc. Scorecards can be used to determine how well projects are performing in each portfolio, and then that information can be used by executives to prioritize and/or cut projects.
The challenge with program management software, however, is that it doesn’t run on auto-pilot. It’s not something that you can set up and forget. It requires diligence by the program and project managers to update with information that ensures their projects are running as expected. That is why there is no replacement for having feet on the ground and people on the frontlines of project or program detail.
We don’t like to paint program management with a military brush, but sometimes it does feel like we are fighting a war. For example:
- You Fight For Resources: You know which resources you want to include on your projects and incorporate into your program management software. The only problem is that everyone else wants to use the same resources on their projects.It takes a certain amount of lobbying, finagling, and deal-making to get these resources on your projects.
- You Fight for Budget: There may be a certain project that is just what your program needs to realize its fullest potential. The problem is that you don’t have the necessary funds in this year’s budget. You need to convince management that your project is worth the investment. This undoubtedly means that the budget will be coming from somewhere else in the organization.
- You Fight for Approvals: Once all the pieces of your program are complete, getting approval from clients or even internal gatekeepers may be like pulling teeth. There always seems to be ‘just one more thing’ that they want to look at or tweak before they put their final stamp of approval on the project or program.
What can help you get through these tough situations? To borrow military terms, you need a ground assault. Program management software may be the air cover you need, but to really get something done you need to have feet on the ground. To increase your project’s chance of succes try these…
Six Offensive Measures You Can Take as a Program or Project Manager
- Go Get the Information You Need: The last thing you should do as a program manager is sit back and wait for information to come to you. There is no excuse for, “I didn’t know that was happening” or “I didn’t know that was the direction that was chosen.”Some managers believe that they can sit back and wait for everyone to come to them with the information they need, but this may or may not happen depending upon how busy everyone is or the culture of the company.Gathering information requires a skilled and experienced program manager. They need to have managed enough projects and programs to know when something is missing or isn’t right. When they are alerted to an issue, they will start questioning those closest to the problem or issue.It’s not done in the style of an interrogation, but as a way of ‘connecting the dots.’
Resources are less likely to come forward with information if something has gone wrong. They may reason that they can fix a problem before it becomes too big of a deal. That may be the case, but if not, it puts the entire project and a big part of the program at risk. The skilled program manager makes it their responsibility to go get this type of information.
- Share Information Profusely and Proactively: It’s the program manager’s responsibility to go get the information they need, but it’s also their responsibility to make sure everyone else has the information they need. Nobody on the team should be wondering what the next step is, what the goals of the program are, and what needs to be done in order to meet those goals.The program manager whose feet are on the ground will use every means of communication at his disposal. This includes one-on-one meetings, group meetings, emails, presentations, reports, drive-by updates (quick chats walking down the hallway), phone calls, IMs, and any other appropriate method to keep everyone informed.
- Keep the Right People Involved in the Program: Outside of knowing how to use program management software, a program manager must also be skilled at keeping the right people involved in the program.Notice I emphasized the word “keeping?”What usually happens is that a program starts off with all of the right people involved; executive sponsor, functional managers, client, and the relevant team members are all actively involved and gung-ho about getting the project off the ground.A little time passes and the shiny new toy that everyone liked playing with starts to lose interest. People have moved on to a new shiny object, and support for the current program begins to wane.
It’s up to you to wrangle them back in and keep them engaged and interested. Otherwise, you’ll be unable to maintain the level of support necessary to complete the program.
- Set the Right Example Yourself: You need to lead by example if you expect people to act a certain way. If your teams see you taking shortcuts, they will think it’s okay to take shortcuts. If they see you disregard the plan developed from the program management software, they’ll think it’s okay to disregard the plan.Part of managing a large program is that people know what you would do if confronted with a certain situation or choice. Provide them with an impeccable example to follow.
- Put Everything Important In Writing: Something else that helps you keep your feet on the ground as a program manager is to put every important decision in writing. This is not for the purpose of covering your tracks, but rather to chronicle the decisions that were made along the way.The end of the project or program many times looks very different than when it started out. Instead of sitting in an office somewhere, get out there on the front line and seek to understand changes and carefully document them. This will prevent long, drawn-out conversations of why the project went a certain way when memories begin to fade.
- Challenge Assumptions: You as well as your team should challenge assumptions. Just because something has been done a certain way for a long period of time doesn’t mean it always has to be done that way. There may be a much better alternative to get something done. It requires some frontline jostling and questioning to implement a new and better way, but it’s worth the effort once the savings in time and/or money is realized.
These six activities are outside of the realm of program management software. The software is a critical part of managing your programs; however, it requires a very real and frontline presence of a program manager. This speaks volumes to the resources you are managing and helps ensure a more successful program.