Navigating the Transition: From Project to Programme

The acronym "PM" is due for a rebrand.

The acronym "PM" is due for a rebrand, I think. In the business transformation space, good luck trying to work out if you're supposed to be sharing a desk with a Project Manager, Programme Manager, or even a new Prime Minister.  


At least two of those are pivotal roles in the business transformation space. Makes it easier to narrow down.  


Jokes aside, you'll know that Project and Programme Managers have very different scopes, depth and responsibilities. So why is the transition from PM to PM so popular? What does navigating a move from Project into Programme look like?  


For those of you looking to take the leap: read on as we explore just that.  


First, Some Background.  

IT is no longer just a support function - it's a driving force; the backbone capable of reshaping an organisation from end to end.  


When we talk about business transformation, we're not narrowing down a change in department, or updating a process.  


We're looking at long-term, almost seismic shifts that impact every facet of the business - from internal processes, to customer experience, to partnerships and technology choices.  


A Key Challenge: Balancing Leadership With Management  

Project managers are no strangers to leadership. They guide teams, manage resources, and ensure projects are delivered effectively. That's a whole host of relevant skills in the aspiring programme manager's toolkit.  


Still, the step up to programme management can sometimes be a shock. The programme manager's scope goes beyond overseeing single projects, and into orchestrating multiple projects that align with the organisational strategy.  


A programme manager from a project background will have foundational skills like organisation, deadline adgerence, and technical understanding. What they may need to learn on the job (or through coaching) will be embodying the characteristics of a visionary leader. 


What does that look like in reality? Softer skills like being supportive, motivating your teams, leading by example, and always scanning for upskilling opportunities. Programme managers need to foresee skill deficits for future projects, and maintain well-rounded teams, whether through hiring or internal upskilling programmes.  


It's a delicate balance - one that requires both a macro and micro view of the organisation.  


Project V Programme: Understanding The Nuance  

At its core, project management is about delivering specific, defined outcomes within a set timeframe. It's a sprint, with a clear start and finish.  


Programme management, on the other hand, is a marathon. It's about committing to an overarching organisational delivery target, making sure that all projects under its umbrella contribute to the larger business goals.  


While a project manager might be laser-focused on specifics, a programme manager needs to keep an eye on the bigger picture.  



Programme Managers: Adaptable By Nature 

In the world of programme management, challenges aren't just roadblocks; they're opportunities. You might think your gold-standard organisational skills will stop problems in their tracks, but that just isn't realistic.  


A great programme manager is a beast at tackling obstacles. They have an ability to reshape, realign, and innovate solutions on the fly.  


We know the term "agile" gets thrown around a lot, but it really does apply here. You should always be on your toes, ready to catch whatever ball is thrown at you and pivot.  


The Conductor Analogy For Resource Management  

A key responsibility for a programme manager is resource management: that is, making sure your projects are adequately staffed. This goes beyond allocating time and deadlines, and into supplier management, liaising with HR, championing upskilling projects, and seconding existing staff.  


You can think of resource management like an orchestral performance. Each project is an instrument, and the programme manager is the conductor - ensuring harmony and synchronicity.  


Tricky In The Longterm - Maintaining Governance. 

Setting up governance structures is one thing; maintaining them is another.  


In the dynamic environment of programme management, it's easy for initial controls to be overshadowed by urgent demands. However, successful programme managers understand the importance of robust governance.  


They ensure that controls are not just established but are also reviewed, adjusted, and adhered to, guaranteeing that the programme remains on track. 


Communication And Nurture - The Marker Of An Exceptional Programme Manager 

While project managers often find themselves in mentorship roles, programme managers take this a step further. They're not just mentors; they're coaches. They guide, nurture, and help project managers under them to grow, fostering a culture of continuous learning and development.  


And, as the bridge between projects and the broader business strategy, programme managers play a crucial role in gaining business engagement. They're the champions of change, often tasked with rallying stakeholders, securing buy-in, and setting clear expectations. Early engagement isn't just beneficial—it's essential.  


Key Takeaway: Programme Managers Are Like Ship's Captains  

A well-executed programme is like a busy ship, navigating the seas of business challenges with grace and precision. 


But remember, even the most seasoned captain relies on their crew. As a programme manager, your strength lies not just in your expertise but in your ability to harness the collective strengths of your team.  



And while external expertise can be invaluable, the true magic happens when it's combined with internal knowledge. Whether you're considering making the leap from project to programme management or are already on this journey, remember: it's a voyage of continuous learning, adaptability, and growth. Embrace it, and get steering! 


Want To Read More From Me?   


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Are you looking to implement a new programme or project? Wondering how you spotlight the diverse skills and proficiency levels of existing staff? The Skills Matrix is one method I'm exploring. Read "Project Staffing: How can the Skills Matrix Help?" 


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