What is a Program?


A Program is a collection of projects that are interrelated in serving an overarching objective towards an organization’s strategic goals.

A few key points are important to note here – interrelated in serving organization’s strategic goals. This is not any collection of projects. These projects are interrelated, and not just interrelated in any way. And they are interrelated in “serving an overarching objective towards an organization’s strategic goals”. Most projects running in an organization are going to be interrelated. But if you group them in any way, they are not going to form a program. Their grouping has to be based on the strategic objective they are serving.

In fact, in most cases you would see the program and the projects within the program be born out of the directives from the strategic objectives. So, in many ways a program could be considered a very big project, which has been broken down into many smaller-projects for ease of execution or other reasons.

Examples

Below are some examples of programs in a few domains;

Upgrading the Technology Stack of a Big Corporation:

A big corporation decides that it’s time to upgrade its Technology stack. The organization sets up a project to review its existing technology stack. Based on the results of that review project, the corporation spins off a number of projects to work on and upgrade the technology stack one piece at a time. One project handles the client-facing digital applications (mobile apps, websites etc.), another project is to upgrade the enterprise services layer, a third project is to upgrade all enterprise applications, a fourth project is to upgrade the data-warehouse and reporting systems and also incorporate some big-data applications, a fifth project is to tackle the upgrading of the data-center and moving some of it to the cloud and a sixth project is to find other smaller innovative wins due to this upgrade and implement them.

Three Construction Projects in developing a Community:

A construction company identifies a good opportunity in a piece of land and progresses to take it through the development stages to build a small community of 25 detached homes. While the project is going through the approval process, another bigger piece of land (bordering the original land) becomes available for purchase. When the company studies the zoning laws, they realize that if they could build a small park and a community facility within the new lot, it could benefit both the projects. They purchase the new lot and proceeds to crease three projects – first would be creation of 25 detached homes, the next would be creation of 50 townhouses, and the final will be creation of a 25 floor condominium along with a park and a community facility unit.

A Rebranding Program of a Retail Giant:

A giant retail company needs to undertake a massive rebranding exercise of its two flagship brand based on current situation with sales and a significant amount of market survey. The company spins off a number of projects to achieve their goal – one project to merge the two flagship brands into one, one project to make the necessary changes to its retail stores, one project to update all its digital assets and merge the business processes of the two brands.

Anyway, these are some interesting examples of how programs shape up in various fields of work.

Types

I guess, it is safe to say that there can be at least as many types of programs as there may be types of organizational objectives. In that sense, following could be some of the key types:

  • Business Model: Making a big shift in the company’s business model.
  • Operational Model: Making ma huge shift in how the organization operates.
  • Technology: Making a massive technology upgrade.
  • Product/Service Launch: Launching a big product or a line of products or services.
  • Integration or Separation: Either integrating or separating two organizations.

That, however, is only about classifying programs based on the strategic objective it is serving. There is at least one other way in which programs can be categorized, and that is to categorize them based on how the constituent projects are structured and how they are linked to one another based on the dependency chain. Below is a categorization based on that:

  • Sequential: In this case, the projects are set up more in a timeline. As one project finishes, it creates things needed by the next project.
  • Parallel: This again is a representation in a timeline. In this case, the projects are all running in parallel. They start around the same time horizon and would all finish around the same time horizon. But, more often, they will not start and finish around the same time.
  • Link chain: In this case, one project depends upon another which in turn depends upon the first. There is a dependency closed chain formed within the projects. As a result, the projects need to be run in very close coordination.
  • Mish-mash: This is more often real life than other scenarios. In here, all the three types I discussed above are at play – you have projects running in sequence as well as in parallel, and you have dependencies running all over the place between the projects, back and forth.

Conclusion

So, you need a program when you want to tackle a big objective and which is impossible to handle through a single project. In such a case you slice and dice your work into a number of projects and package them into what is called a program.


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