Alan Harpham, Chairman of the APM Group, UK

An update of a paper originally presented at The 16th International Project Management Association's World Congress in Berlin, 2002.

Copyright Alan Harpham.
Published here February 2003.

Abstract | Early Background of PM | Roles, Responsibilities | Why have PM?
Benefits | Program of Projects | Types of Programs | Impact of Differences | Part 2

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,[5] 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.

Benefits of Program Management  Benefits of Program Management

5. Davies, Martin. A Portfolio Approach to Program Management and Project Design, 15th IPMA World Congress in Project Management, London 2000
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