Program management by definition is the activity of managing multiple projects simultaneously, in order to improve the overall performance of an entire organization or produce new benefits and capabilities for an organization to utilize.
In Agile terms, you can view program management as the process of improving an organization's overall readiness for dealing with complex situations and dynamic environments. But what exactly is Agile program management and how does it reflect on various business operations? Let's find out.
How program management differs from project management?
Most people tend to believe that programs are just large projects the same way Agile epics are just large user stories. However, that's not the case.
One way to look at the difference is to understand that projects deliver outputs or small pieces of change while programs deliver outcomes. For example, a project will deliver a working software while a program will deliver increased value and/or revenue from that software over the long-term period.
In other words, the goal of a project is to be completed successfully, which includes being delivered on time, not over exceeding the budget and delivering the right type of value to the end-user. On the other hand, the goal of a program is to deliver long-term benefits to the entire organization. Other differences between project and program management include:
- Every project is unique and has finite duration while a program is ongoing with a focus on constantly improving or achieving certain results for the organization.
- A purpose of a project is to deliver a certain product (output or a deliverable) and its success is determined by delivering the right product at the right time for the right cost.
- Program management encompasses managing multiple projects that when combined, will improve the overall benefits of a company or an organization. The success of a program is determined based on the benefits it delivers.
- Program benefits for an organization may include increased profitability, competitiveness, more incomes, reduced costs and so on.
- Program manager role in Agile is to ensure that a program must be able to react to changes accordingly in both strategy and environment in which the organization changes.
How does Agile fit in?
Over the years the market has begun to change dramatically. Complex situations and rapid changes became a common occurrence in the world of software development. Technological and market trends demand a swift and reliable adaptation to such changes.
Program management has risen as a solution to tackle complexity and changes in an environment that's based on adaptive decision making. That's the same reason Agile practices have emerged because traditional methods weren't properly equipped to handle such complexity and uncertainty.
Both Agile practices and program management are based on the same concept, which is to create a logical system constructed from mutually reinforcing and integrated set of decisions focused on creating and delivering value to the stakeholders. Furthermore, Agile and program management share a few more concepts:
- Both methods share an evolutionary and adaptive development, which results in the ongoing release of benefits that can be measured.
- Both methods share the concept of teams as an integrated evolving system in which stakeholders are keenly involved in.
- Both methods share an approach that's based on simplicity that will improve the response rate to changes in demands and dynamic environment.
Agile and program management work well together
Agile methodology can be viewed as a mindset that can be incorporated into program management efforts. In essence, Agile's focus on delivering value wherever possible can enrich program management's focus on understanding the organizational needs, understanding the challenges teams oftentimes face, as well as developing a specific approach that will meet stakeholders’ needs.
That said, the role of program manager in Agile is to ensure that value is the top priority organization-wide. In Agile program management, it's crucial that there's a focus on collaboration and the fact that priorities will change regularly. With that in mind, it's imperative that managers regularly talk to people within the organization, in order to learn what's important and how to approach specific problems or challenges.
In addition, by implementing iterative approaches wherever possible, Agile PMOs (Project Management Office) can improve flexibility in tackling changes, thus ensure they change or pivot quickly and more efficiently than traditional program management approach.
Implementing the Agile program management
Agile program management can mean different things depending on the organization. For some, it could mean implementing the Agile approach while for others it could mean effective management of multiple Agile projects or it could mean that an organization is about to embark on a bold new initiative and needs a solid solution. In any event, implementing Agile program management consists of a few phases:
- Governance - Developing a structure and procedures to control operations, as well as setting up metrics that will monitor the program where it matters the most.
- Alignment - Ensuring that the program aligns with an organization's goals and objectives.
- Assurance - The program must be validated and verified in order to ensure that it supports an organization's vision.
- Management - Conducting regular reviews, in order to ensure that projects, teams, stakeholders etc. are on the same page.
- Integration - Ensuring that all pieces fall into place to create a coherent whole, as well as optimize performance across the value chain of the program, including technicality and functionality.
- Infrastructure - The success of the program is influenced by proper resource allocation.
- Finances - Considering the costs of managing a program.
- Planning - Bringing together information, resources, monitoring and so on, in order to develop a plan.
- Continuous improvement - Continuous assessment of performance, as well as the development of new capabilities that will improve the program.
Agile program management has a purpose of continuously improving value for both the organization and the stakeholders through various activities while helping an organization adapt to changes, uncertainty and instability on the market in an effective and swift way.