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Leadership in Program Management

Case study

It is crucial to understand that the leadership style for program management will quite often differ from the style a CEO or project manager may use. A program manager is responsible for a long-term vision leveraging many projects that together achieve a set of benefits not possible from a single project. Therefore the program manager must have plans for starting new projects, transitioning projects to operational teams, managing a longer-term budget, and accepting the responsibility of communicating with all stakeholders from every project as well as those specifically focused on the program. Additionally, the program manager must constantly ensure that the benefits of the program are understood by and communicated to all, and identify when these benefits are achieved. And whereas a project will often last only six to nine months, a program may very well be a multiyear event that has an ongoing impact on stakeholders with intermittent benefits being realized.

Although you interviewed with the CEO, CFO, COO, CTO, and board of directors, you have not yet met with the individual project managers or the teams that will work on the delivery of the new product. The CEO informs you that you have absolute discretion over the team and that he personally knew of a number of resources that had outlived their usefulness at the firm. He grants you the right to terminate staff on an as needed basis. In addition, he expresses his desire to retire from the firm once they have become profitable again.

Case study quiz

  1. What organizational issues can you identify from the case study?
  2. Based on the information provided, is the organization’s risk tolerance high or low?
  3. How would you define the communication style of the project managers and individual team members?
  4. What would your initial days look like in the creation of this program?
  5. What leadership techniques will you employ and in what order? How will you know when to transition from one to the next?

Would you describe the morale of the teams and what level of empowerment would you expect to see from them? In the case study, the project managers have not had any training in project management methodologies and are not aware of the benefits that can be achieved by implementing best practices. How can you as the program manager achieve your goals of (1) strategy alignment, (2) program benefits management, (3) program stakeholder engagement, (4) program governance, and (5) program life cycle management? What leadership styles would you employ and what would you see as transition points if multiple styles are implemented?

The stakeholder community for this program was the millions who used this road every day, the government agencies who were paying for the effort, and the contractors hired to build the overpasses. The budget was established based on both the cost of the overpasses and the cost of communicating with such a wide base of stakeholders. Initially, the program manager built a website to communicate the long-term vision, demonstrate the current delays in hours/minutes to traverse the road at various times, and display the schedule for conversion.

Last word

What should have been a truly painful program with constant complaints by average commuters had turned into a very successful effort that maintained ongoing communication and celebrated success. At the completion of the effort, the cost overruns were minimal because the program had been so successful with the stakeholder community that it overwhelmed the government with letters of congratulations and positive feedback. Imagine celebrating road construction—not a very common outcome.

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