EPM Principles

Herding Cats

What is the role of a Program Manager in the modern landscape of technology and product development? 

Many people jokingly liken it to Herding Cats.  Why?  Because almost every PM has to figuratively wrangle a large group of independent, opinionated, and sometimes stubborn team members towards a common goal.  That does sound a bit like trying to herd cats…. But let’s try to unpack and clarify what a Program Manager actually does to achieve such a feat. 

Program Managers play a crucial role in many of today’s most successful and innovative companies. But what do they do?  In general, their main responsibility is to lead and coordinate cross-functional teams to deliver complex projects within certain predetermined constraints such as cost, schedule, and technical specifications . They act as the bridge between different teams and functional departments, ensuring that all parties are working towards the same goals and objectives.  Essentially, the PM is the hub of the wheel for any project development.  

A Program Manager’s day-to-day tasks can vary significantly depending on the size and nature of the company or their specific project. However, some common responsibilities include:

Developing and maintaining project plans: Program Managers are responsible for creating and updating project plans, which outline the scope, timeline, and budget for a project. They work with cross-functional teams to identify and prioritize tasks, assign responsibilities, and track progress.

Managing risks and issues: Program Managers are expected to anticipate and mitigate potential risks and issues that may arise during a project. They work closely with team members to identify and resolve problems, and keep stakeholders informed of any delays or changes.  The best PMs are able to ‘see around corners’ to spot and avoid risks before they turn into real issues. 

Coordinating resources and deliverables: Program Managers are responsible for ensuring that he all of the necessary resources, materials, or deliverables are ready at the right time. If you are going to bake a cake, you need all of the ingredients and equipment available at the same time.  It does you no good to have flour and water, but no eggs, sugar or an oven to use.  Program Managers must ensure that every ingredient (material, personal, equipment, deliverable, or funding) is delivered on time and at the right location. 

Monitoring and reporting progress: Program Managers are expected to regularly report on the progress of a project to key stakeholders. They may use tools like Gantt charts, project dashboards, or risk burn-down trackers to assess and visualize progress.  Further, Program Managers also regularly present on topics like overall project status, major risks, or new issues to influential members of the leadership team.  

Driving results: Program Managers are expected to drive results and meet project objectives. This involves working closely with team members to understand issues, overcome challenges, and ensure that all deliverables are completed on time and to a high standard.  In some instances, PMs may even need to ‘make the hard call’ to motivate the team take one course of action over another.  In technology and in business, the right choice is not always clear.  Program Managers, operating as team leaders on the front lines of a project, often have to steer the ship through murky waters.  

In addition to these technical skills, Program Managers must also have strong leadership and communication skills. They must be able to lead and motivate cross-functional teams, foster collaboration and teamwork, and effectively communicate with stakeholders at all levels of the organization.

Overall, the role of a Program Manager is critical to the success of any technology company. They play a crucial role in coordinating and managing complex projects, and their leadership and communication are essential for driving results and meeting project objectives.

Do you have what it takes to be an Expert Program Manager?

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