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Connected, All-in-One.  Part 3,  Program

October 3, 2018
Picture of Eric Baughman

Written by Eric Baughman

Director, Product Management


In the first blog we addressed the power of teams, and the importance of customer-driven outcomes to deliver more value, faster, and to adapt to change.  In the second blog we explored how structured work, in the form of projects, has entered a new paradigm where customer-focused outcomes are paramount; but we need to include cost, schedule, and performance management within our agile practices.  The desired balance between the big picture needs of leadership at the enterprise level, and customer value delivery at the autonomous team level, creates a demand for a “single pane of glass:” a window into the necessary business insights, communications, and decision-making without reverting to command-and-control-style management. 

As we move to the program level, where multiple related projects come together around a common goal, the challenges are magnified.  The goals of a program for instance, if defined, may be tucked away in a road mapping or planning tool.  As program goals are broken down into projects and work items, and parsed to various teams, that work is commonly managed in different systems.  IT projects might be tracked in Microsoft Project, while the Product Development teams are working in JIRA, and Marketing in a SaaS based work management tool, each without visibility into the other’s activities and progress.  They are often disconnected from the broader strategic intent and specific goals of the program - back in a planning tool, document, or spreadsheet somewhere.

The clarity of goals, and alignment of work to achieve those goals, remains key throughout the corporate anatomy, including programs.  “Those who align their EPMO to strategy report 38% more projects meet their original goals and business intent,” according to PMI.   The two-way connectedness discussed in Part 2, between leadership and team execution, also applies to goals between the program and project levels. 

A tried and true business practice has always been to think about the outcome first (goal), then how you will get there.  Think about Stephen Covey’s Habit 2:  Begin with The End In Mind. Begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination.  How is that habit supported within your project and program management system? 

As the Product Manager at Coras, I follow the classic Epic and Story definition using “as a...” (audience), “I need…” (requirement), “so that…” (goal).  In our system, we can aggregate that data at the sprint/project level up to the portfolio/program levels, so the goals of the related work are visible with the higher-level program goals, all in one place.  Alignment is paramount to delivering the “right” outcomes, and as highlighted in Part 1, to avoid “majoring in the minors.”

Due to the breadth and complexity of programs at the execution level, it’s not surprising that “only approximately 28% of organizations have used adaptive program practices (e.g., agile, iterative and incremental), as reported in a PMI 2018 survey.  However as discussed earlier, to be responsive to customers- at a pace to survive, programs must be adaptive and agile. 

There isn’t a software tool on the market that will make an organization agile.  Tools can, however, support an agile practice and facilitate the speed and ease with which leadership, management, and teams effectively manage, adapt, and implement change.  Here are a few tips based on my experience:

  • Intuitive Interface & Usability – Ease of use starts with a modern, intuitive interface, that is simple to access, navigate, and understand the desired information whether you are a team member, a manager, or an executive. Cloud based solutions allow for immediate updates to the newest features, with easier implementation and management.  They should also be available in either SaaS or on-premises options.
  • Data Integration – The complete program picture includes data on status and health update information from project and product systems, budget and spend plan information from financial systems, risks and issues data, and even data story or narrative information around the projects and program.  Data integration provides the flexibility to keep users in the products they need at the execution layer, rather than trying to get all users into a single system or re-key data, which keeps from compromising work execution at the expense of management visibility.
  • Interactive Displays and Reports – The data, whether it’s from external systems or the program management system, should be interactive and maintainable. In other words, project and program managers should have the ability to drill down, and update information as needed, without “swivel chair management” between disparate systems.  Reports should adapt to a selected program scope, enabling a holistic view, an aggregate view of select projects (e.g. portfolio), or targeted views of a specific project within the program.
  • BI & Analytics – Business Intelligence and Analytics, should allow decision makers to pivot and shape that information for additional insights and better decisions versus being limited to out-of-the-box reports or costly custom reports.

Next, in Part 4, we’ll further explore BI & Analytics within the context of the corporate anatomy.  We’ll have the complete infographic displayed at booth 621, October 6-9 at the PMI Global Conference in Los Angeles, CA.   Stop by if you’re there, we’d love to chat and learn from you. If not, comment below.  We value your feedback!


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