Managing programs in a changing world

I joined in with Managing and Saving Programs in a Changing World, an audio/Webex conference with LeRoy Ward, Executive VP at ESI, recently.

It wasn’t radical – the ESI approach to managing programs in a changing world is obviously to be great at the basics – but it was a good revision session and a reminder of the differences between projects and programs.

The presentation was in two parts: managing programs and the complexities of this, and saving a troubled program. This post looks at the first half of the presentation: managing programs.

Sometimes managing with one sponsor is difficult enough. However, multi-person sponsorship is more common than having a single sponsor in program management, especially in large and complex programs.

Ward highlighted some issues with program sponsorship:

  • The sponsor needs broader knowledge of the projects and business areas impacted by the program.
  • The program requires more resources so the sponsor needs access to those resources in order to secure them for you.
  • Multiple sponsorship means sponsors from different business areas and this can cause conflicts.

Ideally, a program sponsor should be someone with a sound knowledge of business processes, able to effectively manage resources and help with securing and managing the financials.

In addition to a program sponsor and a program manager, the program management team could include a change manager, a business analyst, a risk manager and a financial manager.

Part of effective program management is effective change management. Change management is all about conveying the need for change with a compelling vision of the ‘to be’ state. Key to this is understanding the environment and culture so you can phrase the messages appropriately.

Ward suggested applying a regular ‘learning milestone’ by which I think he meant reviewing progress to date, making any tweaks and then shifting your approach to do things better. And I would also add checking to see if the change you are making is sticking.

Ward also talked about choosing key program team members wisely – just because someone thinks they understand change management doesn’t mean they do.

Change management is a professional discipline in its own right. I don’t dispute that, but I would love to be on a program where I could employ a professional change manager plus all those other people to do risk, finances and analysis as full-time jobs.

In my experience it is much more likely for people to muck in and do what needs to be done to reach the end goal without having fancy job titles that delineate their roles from that of other people.

Ward said that to build the full commitment of the organization to the change you need to acknowledge the impact of it on people. He said that you need to give people empathy, not sympathy.

People want to be listened to more than they want to be talked at. I have held ‘Town Hall’ style meetings before, specifically for groups of new recruits, but they are time consuming.

Still, all stakeholder management and project politics is time consuming, but it needs to be done to oil the wheels.

Read next: the main problems faced by teams trying to recover a failing programme.

You might also like Ward’s 5 steps for recovering troubled programs.