This is a difficult one. I have worked in multiple organisations and come in at different phases of projects. Programme management is difficult due to it including so many different facets of delivery (benefits, technical delivery, setup, governance etc…). However, I think to be successful in this role, the following are the key assets and characteristics that you need to show. I strive for these things every day.
As a Programme Manager you cannot do anything of any value that will move the project forward. You literally have too much to do and too many people and work streams to manage. Instead, you need to rely on your staff, whether they are matrix managed or whether they are directly reporting into you (permanent or contractor). So fundamentally, you have to be able to get the best out of the people that are working for you. Over a short period of time, lots of management techniques can work. You can direct or you can order people around. However, if you want people to flourish then there is really only one way to handle the management of them, You need to show them respect and give them clear room to work in with you providing direction only. Your not is not to provide the detail as to how jobs are done, but instead show them where they need to go and let them get there themselves
This is one I don’t often see a lot in senior managers of Directors. For obvious reasons, people are busy and don’t have time to spend in meetings letting other people get to a position of understanding. However, I find it extremely beneficial when I need to get to a consensus to let everyone in the room have space and time to get to a common position of understanding. So many times people are in the room with little understanding and therefore walk out of the room with little or no buy-in to the decisions that have been made. It is very important to spend time getting people up to speed with the information that they need. Some people need wider context, some people need more detail. Either way; let them have what they need! Once they have this, you will see it in their eyes and they are engaged and ready to support a decision or describe in clear terms why they disagree with a decision. You must let people get to where they need to be before they engage and support you.
It is easy to say that you can do something better than someone else, especially if you are coming into a Programme that is in trouble and needs changing. However, I have seen instances where people have come in and found issues with other people’s work and plans, only then to make the same mistakes when they produce their only plans. The key is always doing the right level of due diligence and listening to people. You will find common themes the more people you listen to and you would be unwise to ignore things that are told to you more than once. Often people have good reason to flag risks. What you need to do is work them out and work out if the risks are worth acting upon. But don’t apply your own filters and only hear what you want to hear. That is a mistake.
Follow the Data
Quite often I have seen risks or issues raised and then action is taken to mitigate. Then, there is a period of time given to see if that actually makes any difference. However, quite often, plans remain un-changed based on an assumption that things will get better. I would always recommend that you do not change plans until the data shows the improvement that you need. That data could be anything but is typically related to effort vs estimates. If you have a number of items that nee to be delivered in a period of time, then a simple bit of maths will always help you forecast a completion data. If you are running late, this data does not change when you make changes (e.g. add resources, reduce scope). What you need to do is to wait for the changes to take effect until you give any positive messages. Wait until it does, and only then remove your exception plan.