The views expressed in this article are strictly those of Max Wideman.
The contents of the book under review are the copyright property of the author.
Published here May 2016

Introduction | Book Structure | What We Liked
Downside | Summary


The following comments are not so much a criticism of Michel's Thiry's book as it is of the process of Program Management itself, using his book as a basis. There can be no question that the level of competence described in the book requires additional management resources from which some conclusions can be drawn:

  • Program management is only for organizations, whether public or private, in which Executive management requires the type of influence provided by program management, and has access to the necessary people and support, including funding, to implement it.
  • That means large corporations: public, private, non-profit, and government departments.
  • By contrast, however, program management can be scaled down to imply the managing of a small group of related projects. Indeed, Peter Morris has suggested that Program Management may simply cover:[21]
    • A portfolio of projects related to some common objective;
    • An organization's business strategy which is to be implemented through projects;
    • The interdependencies between a number of projects;
    • Resource allocation amongst a portfolio of projects.

One has to question to what extent it is practical in most organizations for Program Management (PgM) staff to be responsible for Realizing Outcomes and Benefits as shown in Figure 1 earlier. Or even ensuring they are achieved, when the tools are firmly in the hands of Business as Usual (BaU) operations? Is PgM given the authority to "lord" it over BaU, or is PgM simply subservient to BaU on the corporate organization chart? Either way, an extra layer of management is inevitable. Obviously, some specific control must be exercised to avoid an unnecessary growth of bureaucracy.

As quoted earlier, the difference between outputs and outcomes has special significance in Program Management, i.e. "Projects generally deliver outputs: a single product or service ... Programs deliver outcomes:[22] sets of capabilities which, together, produce benefits.[23] " In the case of projects, the resulting tangible assets can be observed, tested and so on. In the case of Program outcomes, such as cultural changes, the first question to be answered is: Changes from what?

There is a relevant saying that "What gets measured gets done". The implication is, of course, that if it isn't measured, most likely it will not get done. This has special significance for program management, because programs deliver "outcomes" that represent changes in capabilities that can only be assessed by comparison with an earlier condition. Therefore, prior surveys are an essential part of managing many types of programs and, as a prerequisite to a decision to launching a program, current status requires special emphasis and attention.

By the same token, the successes of individual projects in a program are difficult to establish, because success is only realistically possible to measure by examining the results of the program as a whole.

At the end of the day, one is left with a rather queasy feeling — so who is really in charge of making sure that "benefits" happen? In the real world, quite often the answer is simply the most powerful unit in the organization. And equally often, that answer turns out to be "Marketing".[24]

We Liked  What We Liked

21. P.W.G. Morris. Centre for Research in the Management of Projects (CRMP), University of Manchester, UK, 1999 (Wideman Glossary entry D03742)
22. Note the subtle difference between "outputs" and "outcomes". Outputs are deliverables or assets that are tangible benefits by nature, whereas "outcomes" are the consequence of delivering benefits through the proper use of those assets.
23. Program Management p111: Note that in program management, benefits are measurable improvements that contribute to the overall value of the organization or have a positive social impact.
24. Marketing may be associated with promotion, selling, product distribution, political vote seeking, or self-survival in the case of non-profits.
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