Program Manager

What is a Program Manager?

A program manager oversees the successful execution initiatives and/or operations of an organization.  There is a natural overlap of Product and Program Management insofar as they both organize details that drive team activities, but they differ insofar as a Product Manager is rooted in serving external customers and understanding their needs and how to solve them, whereas a Program Manager is focused on the inward needs and operations of the organization. 

Typical responsibilities of program managers include:

  • Optimizing internal process
  • Managing delivery pipelines
  • Resource allocation and planning
  • Articulating program controls
  • Harmonizing projects and dependencies
  • Managing cost and risk

Program Manager vs. Project Manager

Although they are two different job titles, a Program Manager and a Project Manager have some shared attributes.  To explain that, let’s quickly define what they focus on:

Project – This is a defined activity with a fixed timeframe. Projects are limited by resources and have specific scope and deliverables.

Program – This is a collection of projects that go together towards achieving a strategic or major business initiative. Programs aim at more than a single deliverable; they target strategic gains and organizational growth. An example initiative is launching a product or maybe improved lead conversion.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) describes the latter as a “super” project manager, and in fact, it is not uncommon to find individual contributor Project Managers that report into a strategic Program Manager sitting at a Director level, similar to how Product Owners may report into a senior-level Director of Product. 

While the role of a Program Manager is strategic about operations and process, that of a project manager is tactical. One focuses on a long-term business objective while the other only needs to deliver on a one-off, short-term deliverable.

Skills and Qualities of Good Product Managers

To excel in any role, there are skills you must have. These are typically acquired through training and/or experience.  In addition to skills, you also need to have some personal traits. These can be developed from earlier years and may also be acquired through training.

The following are some of the skills and qualities that you need to succeed as a program manager:

  • Strong management and leadership skills
  • Good grasp of different project and program management approaches
  • Good understanding of a program’s wider objectives
  • Excellent budgeting and resource allocation skills
  • People and communication skills

A program manager is ideally someone that has prior experience of managing big and complex projects.

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