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Nine Skills You Need To Move Into Programme Management

Programme Management

Programme Management: is this a career path you’ve thought about? As businesses get more savvy with project management and start aligning projects together into programmes of work, the need for skilled programme managers grows.

Programme management isn’t the same as managing projects and the skills you need are quite different. However, they are certainly aligned and many project managers successfully make the leap into the more strategic and higher-level role of managing a programme of work.

But what does it mean to have programme management skills? Here are nine skills you can work on as project manager that will help you make the jump to programme level when the time comes.

  1. Resource Management

Bleurgh. I don’t like calling people resources, but let’s put that aside for a moment.

In a programme management role there are lots of people, all playing important parts in keeping everything moving in the right direction. At project level you’ve been used to juggling the resource requirements around within your team so that you’ve got the right people doing the right things at the right time. On a programme, it’s a bigger pool of people.

You’ll have to look at the skills required to deliver the programme and work with project managers to resource the projects adequately. Then you might have to take decisions about where to deploy those staff members so that the work gets done in the most efficient way – even if that means taking someone off one project and temporarily asking them to work on another.

It’s a huge juggling act and can be quite time consuming. The experience you’ve had managing teams on projects will definitely help.

  1. Stakeholder Engagement

Programmes have stakeholders, just like projects do. Hone your skills on your project and you’ll be well-placed to use them at programme level.

I’d say there is a lot more stakeholder engagement to do at a programme level as the pool of stakeholders is larger and generally people holding more senior roles in the organisation (i.e. there is more politics to deal with).

  1. Analysis

That’s a broad term. What I mean is the ability to look at lots of different data sources and information and see what’s really going on.

You’ll have to weed out the opinion, focus on facts and ask challenging questions to get to the root cause of issues. You’ll have to dig into the detail and then apply that to the big picture. Being able to assimilate lots of information and condense it into a format that people can understand is important.

Think about how you do that today in your role and that might give you some ideas of how you can prove you can do this at a programme level.

  1. Decision Making

Someone has to make the decisions, and in a programme management role, that’s often you.

You have to be confident enough to use the information you’ve received and make the call. There’s no hiding in this job!

You make decisions all the time in your project management role, so there’s nothing inherently different, except the implications are generally more significant and the buck stops with you.

  1. Business Acumen

Your programme is delivering some kind of change but there are parameters around that. Use your business acumen skills to understand the commercial aspects of the work. You need to be able to think of your programme in the context of other business initiatives and consider the implications for spending money.

This is all about understanding the business case, challenging intelligently and thinking about the cash as if it was your own money on the line. There’s possibly also an element of contract negotiation and procurement that perhaps wasn’t a big part of your project role. Finally, you’ll have to manage the programme budget, making sure each project and initiative is adequately financed.

  1. Change Management

Everything to do with a programme is about changing something. The constituent projects support the overall change the business is looking for. Good change management skills are really important, and this goes beyond knowing how to fill in a change request form and doing the analysis for a project-level change.

This is really about changing ‘hearts and minds’ to borrow another phrase I don’t particularly like using. Programme managers have to bring people along with them, encouraging them to see the vision and to understand why they are going on this journey. And dealing with the inevitable resistance to your plans.

You might work alongside a change manager who can handle these elements, but it’s still worth having a broad understanding of change management tools and techniques yourself so that you can assist and support as required.

  1. Communication

It should go without saying that programme managers need to be excellent communicators. Again, this is a skill you can hone in a project management role. You’ll be able to use all your experience in a programme management job.

The audiences for communication on a programme are quite different, but the analysis and planning has a lot of similarities to project-level communication.

  1. Risk Management

Risk management is another one of those skills where the title makes it look like you’re just doing the same thing as you did on projects but the reality is quite different.

Programme level risk management is not just about rolling up all the project risks into one big log and then asking project managers to stay on top of them. You’ll need to link programme level risks to strategic business outcomes, identify issues that will impede other business initiatives and present all of that in a way that ties back to what the executive team really care about. Plus you’ll do all the monitoring and corrective action for those risks, as well as supporting project managers with their local issues.

  1. The Ability To Let Go

On smaller projects you probably understood a lot of the tasks in minute detail. If you came from a technical or subject matter expert background you might have got stuck doing some of the tasks as well. You can’t do that on a programme. First, you are too busy doing programme management and second you can’t be close enough to the project detail to be able to get hands on!

You have to acknowledge this and get comfortable with not knowing the minutiae of what is going on. Let it go. You have to trust your project managers and their teams to do what they need to do and to flag problems to you. You have to press on with the confidence that it’s all happening, even if you don’t know exactly what ‘it’ is.

Armed with these nine skills you should be able to put together a good case as to why your management team should consider you for a programme management role. You’ll also be able to test out whether you think you’d enjoy it and whether the job would be a good fit for you. What do you think? What other skills do you think are essential for managing programmes? We’d love to hear!

>> Find out more about the programme management courses available from TwentyEighty Strategy Execution


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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

One comment

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    This is a great post. Only addition for me would be a 10th point = Care Personally.
    Not only does it take care of the “Bleurgh. I don’t like calling people resources” but it helps us remember that projects are run by people and that a leader (be it Project, Programme or Portfolio) should care about there people, whether it’s a temporary relationship or longer term.
    I love the quote by Kim Malone-Scott in her book Radical Candor “It’s not just Business, it’s personal and its DEEPLY personal”.
    I find it interesting that often on my projects I end up talking more about careers and development with the team members than about their actual work packages! :oD

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