I was recently asked about the applicability of program and project management practices in operations-focused businesses. My view is that it makes very good sense to think in terms of programs for many operations.

There is often a need to achieve one or more specific goals rather than just continue to turn the handle on “business-as-usual”. In fact, most businesses want to become more effective and innovate.  Once this premise is accepted then the steps that follow have a similar theme regardless of the nature of the change or product.

The high-level steps that must be progressed are at the convergence point of most coaching, design and change models:

1.     Envision the end state and define success

2.     Examine the current state (in this context)

3.     Assess the gap and enunciate the requirement

4.     Devise a strategy to close the gap

5.     Design a plan to deliver on the strategy

6.     Define the resources and behaviours needed to get there

7.     Execute, champion, monitor and adapt

The problem is always multidimensional and extends beyond simple time, budget and scope considerations to address the business, stakeholders, ongoing operations and future consequences. Managing these as a part of a program helps maintain focus and engagement but does require both commitment and resources; not unreasonable if the goal is worth achieving. Trying to wing it on the back of everyday operations is taking a less effective approach, as the goals will almost always struggle against more pressing ‘priorities’. Managing something as a program or project includes the definition of the what, why, when, how and who and bundles this into an identifiable construct. The bounded nature of both programs and projects makes them easier to discuss and champion effectively.

For me there is broad overlap between ‘program’ and ‘project’. Both are temporary endeavours attempting to deliver something of value. A program is a set of projects that are being managed collectively for some overall advantage gained in doing so (eg control of resources). Some like to dwell on the definitions that state programs deliver outcomes whilst projects deliver solutions that enable those outcomes; a strategic versus tactical argument. In my view, most of the tools and techniques needed to secure a win are common to both. Both need a vision and a strategy to deliver the win. Both need the community and motivators to foster behaviours that will underpin success. Both need the organisation, processes and tools to deliver. Treating a project as though it is in some way isolated from the wider picture is taking a risk and is, I believe, misguided.

And, at the end of the day, it’s all about managing risk. Risk has many dimensions – complexity, novelty, speed, technology, social, political and others. The greater the risk the greater the need for some form of overarching governance and the adoption of risk mitigating models (eg an evolutionary approach, outsourcing alliances, stakeholder participation, integrated change management etc).

Sometimes different parts of the solution need a different management approach and this can be more easily managed by segmentation into projects managed as a program. Either way, running with a program or project structure for key initiatives provides a solid platform for maintaining alignment with changing environments and operational contexts. Programs can be redirected, projects can be discarded, new ones can be inserted and the overall impact can be understood and reviewed as a coherent whole.

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AuthorTrevor Lindars