Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Programs and Projects

Greg Githens has a post on programs and projects that has a nice comparison of the mindset and objectives that go with each.

I'll pick on only two points:
  • Greg draws a distinction between outputs and outcomes [that's good, and see my earlier posting on this], ....but then he puts 'outputs' in the projects column and 'outcomes' in the programs column. I would put it this way: all successful projects produce outputs that beget outcomes, else there is no benefit stream to offset the investment in the outputs.  Without benefits, a project is really not successful at the business level. [See: "New Coke"]
  • He says project objectives are tactical and program objectives are strategic: Well, it depends on the project doesn't it? An ERP project is certainly a tactical achievement, but it's often justified on its contribution to strategic business performance and capabilities, especially capabilities directed to customers.
Greg makes two points I especially like:
  • Projects regard “risk” as a threat that will undermine performance. Project mangers focus on reducing uncertainty. Programs regard “risk” as an opportunity that brings with it threats and obstacles that will be managed. Program managers focus first on managing ambiguity and then on managing uncertainty.
  • Projects are typically led by people who have good knowledge of the technology and system.  Programs are typically led by people who appreciate the politics and culture as well as the technology. Stated differently, they tend to function more as executives than as technocrats.

Greg cites the NASA space shuttle as an example of a program. NASA agrees: From their website on program management, NASA states:

Program management lies between strategic planning and project management, since a strategic plan proposes programs that the organization will undertake. Each program is made up of several different projects. For instance, the Pioneer program included over a dozen spacecraft, ranging from simple test craft like Pioneer 4 to deep space probes like Pioneer 10, the first spacecraft from Earth to head on an interstellar journey

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