What is a "Program of Projects" and What Types are There?
My preferred definition of a program is still:
"A set of related projects with a common strategic goal or aim".
The UK APM's program management Special Interest Group (SIG) and many others
have produced many alternative, and to my mind confusing, definitions of a program
(of projects). There is a need to distinguish a "program" from a "portfolio". A program automatically comprises a portfolio of projects, but not all portfolios of projects are programs. Some are projects grouped together purely for resource or management coordination purposes without a common strategic aim or goal, such
as those managed by a contractor for his clients.
The use of the word program is already potentially confusing as the same word
is used to describe a "computer program", "a program of work",
or "a timescale program for a project", i.e. schedule. These
are all different meanings of the same word. And we in the UK spell it "programme", while the Americans spell it "program". They also use a different title: "Enterprise Management" to add to the confusion! The
first textbook that I read on project management in the early 1980s, was written
by Russ Archibald of the US. He is one of the leading early gurus on the subject
and a great friend. His book was entitled "Managing High Technology Programs
and Projects" and the programs he described are not unlike the definition
of a program above.
Pellegrinelli, in his paper, identifies three types of program, each based
on a different management motivation for its creation. The "portfolio program" is one which groups projects together that are relatively independent
of one another, but that have a common theme. Typically, the theme is not related
to the corporate strategy, but rather to the use of common resources, and the
improvement of project performance through coordination. I would prefer to think
of a "portfolio of projects" as not being a program of projects at
all, but just a portfolio of projects which may be connected in some way other
than having a common strategic objective, as the name implies. This is what most
design consultants, contractors and suppliers have to manage each and every day.
A "Goal Oriented Program" is a means of dealing effectively with
situations where uncertainty prevails and learning is a prerequisite for making
progress. The program framework enables identified work to be scoped into small,
short duration projects and managed accordingly. It therefore lends itself to
translating vague, incomplete and emerging and evolving business strategies into
tangible actions and new developments, what we used to call strategic initiatives.
The projects that result may impinge on a number of core systems and procedures.
They are also a means of effecting major, typically one-off changes where neither
an exact implementation process nor a definitive outcome is known in advance.
A major research & development program would be a good example. "Heartbeat
programs" are those that enable the regular improvement of existing systems,
infrastructure or even business processes. Again, the program provides the integrative
framework and processes for business requests for extra functionality, capacity
or changes to core processes.
My colleague in P5, Martin Davies, in his paper presented at the 15th World
Congress on Project Management in London in 2000,
identifies two important aspects. Firstly, identify and specify the correct programs
and projects to close the "strategic gap" i.e. "doing the right
projects". Secondly, realize the organizational and business benefits from
these programs and projects i.e. "doing the right programs and projects
well". The former is in effect the "demand" side for programs
and projects; the latter is all about the "supply" side of programs
and projects. It is impossible to get the supply side right without properly
understanding the nature of the demand side.
Davies, Martin. A Portfolio Approach to Program Management and Project Design,
15th IPMA World Congress in Project Management, London 2000