The views expressed in this article are strictly those of Max Wideman.
The contents of the book under review are the copyright property of Tom Kendrick.
Published here October 2017

Introduction | Book Structure | What We Liked
Snippets | More Snippets | Downside | Summary/Conclusion

What We Liked

To capture the interest of casual readers, each chapter of this book is preceded by a quotation, no doubt to jog the mind, such as this one that is very relevant to the subject matter at hand:

"Dividing an elephant in half does not make two small elephants"
Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

The definition of "Program" is called out at the very beginning of Chapter 1 by comparing it with the author's definition of a project.[5] Thus:

"Projects are undertakings that are of finite duration and seek to deliver a specific result using limited assigned resources."

As author Tom Kendrick correctly observes: "Program" is a term that means different things in different contexts.[6] But here Tom prefers to default to the Project Management Institute's definition, namely:

"A program is a group of related projects, subprograms, and program activities that are managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually."

Having laid this fundamental groundwork, Tom goes on in Chapter 1 to explore the organizational context for programs, and describe a range of program types and sizes. He then discusses program origins and challenges, and most importantly, explores the dimensions of complexity that programs must face.[7] As an example, Tom briefly describes the massive NASA space program and concludes that:[8]

"Thousands of contributors worked on the projects that made the program successful. Without a clear division of the program into phases, missions, functions, and detailed projects (not to mention an enormous amount of talent and money), none of what was accomplished would have been even remotely possible."

And finally, "The conflicting needs of dealing with detailed-level complexity and high-level longer-term objectives are what make program management challenging."[9]

If that doesn't whet your appetite, nothing will!

In the same chapter, Tom goes on to describe the rationale for effective limits on project and program size. Such detail is also valuable in analyzing program and project failure. Tom suggests that project management methods do work well, but only up to a point, with the following as useful limits for project parameters:[10]

  • Approximately ten to twelve full-time contributors
  • Roughly 6 to 8 months of overall project duration
  • About 100 to 200 lowest-level activities in the project work breakdown structure
  • Around 100 effort-months of estimated work
  • A budget nearing $1 million

Presumably, more than that calls for the introduction of a program management structure. Naturally, Tom follows this with a brief outline of the life of a program life span consisting simply of: Program Initiation, Program execution and Program closure. What could appear simpler?

Well, it turns out that Program Complexity is the real challenge because of the several types of problems that can arise, ranging from the simple to the insolvable, especially relating to program scope. Here, Tom concludes that:[11]

"Although there are structural similarities between the hierarchy describing program scope and that for program projects, there are many additional complexities associated with understanding workflow and developing a coordinated program plan."

With that and in the next five chapters, Ken's book launches into the meat of its subject by discussing in great detail the program phases as listed earlier, namely: Initiation, Deliverable Management, Planning and Organizing, Leadership, and Execution and Control. Of all of the five chapters, we were very pleased to see that the last chapter is the largest. Too often, books on project management conclude with project planning, leaving the reader high and dry when it comes to actual execution.

Book Structure  Book Structure

5. Ibid, p4
6. Ibid
7. Ibid, p3
8. Ibid, pp5-6
9. Ibid, p7
10. Ibid, p11
11. Ibid, p19
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