Feedback from the Trenches of Program Management

I've been talking with a lot of program and project managers and executives lately, asking their opinions about the challenges faced with running and managing complex programs.  These managers and executives have a minimum thirty years experience, have managed complex programs in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and have worked with a variety of PPM tools.  We've seen and heard that many projects go over budget and over time, and rarely is there a sense that a program has been run in an "optimal" way, so that's how the conversation started.

In response, I heard some "war stories;" here are a few of the highlights:
  1.  I keep seeing programs drift away from the original goals.  The justification for the program is done up front, and the program gets approved, and then it gets handed to the PMO.  The PMO maps out the execution so that the end point of the program matches the justification, but then the Program Manager gets all wrapped up in coordinating between projects, reviewing status reports, managing issues and risks, and we don't have time to keep reviewing the corporate objectives, as long as we are still moving toward that original end state.
  2. Another problem we see is with accountability.  The executive sponsor doesn't really have a way to monitor accountability toward the corporate goals throughout the program. 
  3. In-flight changes are another issue.  If goals change, or something outside of the program happens that impacts the business, we don't really have a way to handle that within the PPM systems, and we certainly don't have a way to rapidly adjust without re-baselining everything - which can take weeks.
  4. Programs should really be managed like corporate initiatives.  Business rules don't really tie into a program once it has started.
  5. Things get so complex that decisions made in one department that have a profound impact elsewhere, aren't recognized. I managed a big migration project once, where an entity had to separate itself from the government network to which it had been connected.  It was a moderately sized program, with about twenty distinct projects in it, and it was a "must-do" project without a real ROI justification.  It just had to be done.  We were handed the program to run, and laid out all of the project plans, scheduled all of the resources, even had to hire some contractors to help out.  Guess what?  Purchasing, which was not managed within the program, didn't place the order for the servers.  They had been given the order, but the accounting department, which also wasn't managed within the program, decided that they should negotiate better pricing, which took them about six weeks.  Yes, we knew that there was a delay in purchasing, but we had no idea that, after that six weeks was up and the order finally given to the vendor, that it would take the vendor another six weeks to deliver.  We had ten different project teams sitting virtually idle for twelve weeks - thank heavens we didn't mobilize all twenty teams!  Honestly, I bet we ate up whatever they saved by negotiating the price - and maybe about ten or even twenty times more than that.
Based on these responses (and there were quite a few more stories, let me tell you), I asked this question:

What if you could tie program management into the corporate objectives, leverage the business requirements, and create continuous visibility into the future impacts of both project decisions and business decisions? 

  1. There's nothing out there that does that.  If there were, it would be gold.
  2. We could take a MBO (management by objectives) kind of approach.  That would be awesome.
  3. It would elevate Program Management to "Corporate Initiative Management."
  4. The executive sponsor could push down the business's requirements, and then hold the delivering organization accountable for business results and to the ROI justifications.  That would be amazing.
  5. Understanding how what we do today will impact the future of the project would be terrific.  We can't see far enough into the future when we are running these programs to know when we might end up checkmating ourselves, or when the business might checkmate us without realizing it.
After getting this input, I handed my conversation partner the information sheet on World Modeler DEEPM™ (in person or virtually), and excused myself from the meeting for a few minutes.  Upon returning, it would not be unusual for me to see scribbles and stars all over the sheet.  Then these highly qualified, tremendously experienced program managers started firing questions and comments at me. 
  1. Can you really do this?  Yes, we can.  We have.
  2. I like the name, because our view can stay pretty shallow, and I like the idea of being deeply integrated with the business.  What does the name mean?  It comes from Decision Engineering for Enterprise Program Management - DEEPM.
  3. Can we set up the program goals and all of the dependencies, and then have it tell us the optimal way to do the various projects inside the program?  Yes, you can.
  4. This is for the business sponsor, or portfolio manager, or maybe a PMO Director, if they are measured on business results; project managers probably won't even know about it.  Good input, thank you.
  5. Does this integrate with PPM tools, or does it replace them, or what?  It does not replace PPM tools, and it will integrate with them.  It essentially sits on top of the PPM toolset, and its job is to link the business's requirements, rules, and decisions into a forward-looking model that the Program Manager can monitor, share, and adjust as reality hits.
  6. Explain this picture please.  [The picture to which he referred is below.]  Programs have goals, and the projects get mapped out to achieve the end target.  However, especially in transformation projects, the ROI is not just an end goal.  The project execution can be optimized to return ROI whenever possible throughout the program.  In short, visibility and linkage to the business's ROI expectations allows things like the order of projects and project execution to be truly optimized.

One example of the potential with DEEPM

Author's note:  If you've just read this post, and you're thinking, "Wow, this sounds like something that could really help us," take a deep breath and get the Case Study white paper (which goes into more detail about point #6 above) and the information sheet.  This is really possible.