To get a better understanding of program management let’s look at the difference of definition between a program and a project. PMI (Project Management Institute, an established organization for project management practices) gives the following definitions:
-a program is “a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way, usually include an element of ongoing work”,
-a project is “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result”.
By definition a project has a temporary endeavour; this means that a project has a finite period of time (a start and end date) to carry out what is described in its scope. The scope defines the boundaries of a project (the amount of work to be done). Exceeding the boundaries could mean out of scope. A project, per se, sounds like a static entity, but within a timeframe the situation changes… it's a dynamic environment. This means that a project progresses with time and each single point of time has to be managed in order to identify its status (the situation of a project). Managing a project means applying processes, techniques, and tools, related to a methodology, throughout its life cycle (“from birth to retirement”).
The point is that project management has to do with activities that lie within the project's timeframe and framework of reference. Program management, on the other hand, wants to deal with this from a different perspective. It will look at the project from a different dimension (or external to the framework) to take decisions on the situation of one or more projects,at any particular time.
This is achieved by setting up an ongoing structured system for monitoring, controlling and reporting activities on designated instances, within the timeframe of a project.
The system has also to balance the following:
(i) optimizing the use of resources,
(ii) minimizing risks, and
(iii) maximizing results.
The parameters to be balanced are such that they will assure stability, if not improvement, on the company’s strategic objectives, through the success of project’s results. Some parameters might include risks identified, scope, resources, budget allocated, time …
Monitoring is achieved by having a schedule of meetings throughout the year, with the project team of each project. Controlling includes comparing and verifying that parameters are within a certain range of acceptability (metrics are used for measurement’s purposes), with respect to the baseline. Reporting should be done at different level of details: data-graphics for top management, data-graphics and summary for middle management, and more detailed information for lower management.
For project oriented organizations, this is an ongoing activity. Furthermore, when managing multiple projects it is important to add another variable to each project, the priority. This variable needs to be managed, especially, in critical situation, e.g., if a project that is strategic for a company and is in a critical situation, it might be possible to “borrow” resources from a project that has a lower priority.
In conclusion, as a result of this ongoing process, overall project management performance will definitely improve.