Team working together by a board to support change management planning

Program management involves the coordination of several projects that are designed to achieve benefits that go beyond individual management. This management approach is crucial to organizational success, especially when managing complex change programs and business transformation. The program management process uses various tools, techniques, knowledge, and skills to meet specific program requirements. Our extensive experience has shown that organizations with well-developed program management and program management offices (PMOs) typically perform better than those without. Investing in a robust program management system can be wise for organizations looking to achieve their objectives and realize their full potential.

This article will cover key areas of program management.

  1. Program management definition
  2. Delivering program change
  3. Program, planning, and governance
  4. What are the functions of program management?
  5. What is the role of program management in an organization?
  6. What are the qualities of an effective program management specialist?
  7. What are the characteristics that define effective program management?
  8. The benefits of program management
  9. Conclusion
Team working together by a board to support change management planning

The executive and program management teams must consider crucial aspects for successful change management implementation.

Program management definition

Program management involves coordinating projects and ongoing business activities to achieve beneficial change. A program encompasses related projects and ongoing business activities. It is a unique and temporary strategic initiative to achieve beneficial change.

Definition adapted from APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition

Delivering program change

Programs are often used to bring about change and help organizations achieve their business objectives. They involve investing capital to acquire assets, services, products, capabilities, and operating expenses that support regular business operations. The sponsor is critical in shaping a program and must select and coordinate projects and other daily tasks. The program is guided by a “program vision,” representing the desired future state and facilitating the gradual delivery of benefits over time. The sponsor also plays a crucial role in determining the level of risk that investors are willing to tolerate to achieve their goals.

Program, planning, and governance

Achieving a vision within an organization involves carefully selecting and organizing projects and regular business activities. This is a crucial task that the sponsor and program manager jointly handle.

Day-to-day program management

While the sponsor provides the overarching strategic direction, the program manager is responsible for the program’s day-to-day management, including project coordination, managing changes, and ensuring the program achieves its goals and benefits. Effective administration in this role requires a deep understanding of the program’s objectives, the ability to communicate effectively with stakeholders, and the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.

Benefits prioritization

Program planning prioritizes benefits, and the program deployment approach and life cycle are typically iterative to enable decisions about the best next steps. Occasionally, project governance within programs is set up independently of program governance. If this is the case, project sponsors are part of the program governance structure to ensure continuous focus on program benefits and alignment of priorities.

The program board is a governing body that sponsors and oversees a program. It represents financial, provider, and user interests.

What are the functions of program management?

Program management is a crucial function that oversees the delivery of large-scale initiatives. These initiatives comprise several individual projects, which are generally managed separately by project managers.

Project delivery

Program managers play a decisive role in ensuring the successful delivery of projects within their programs. They are responsible for maintaining a strategic plan and schedule for each project, providing guidance to stakeholders, monitoring the progress and status of each project, mentoring project managers, and ensuring that each project plan and deliverable meets the required quality standards.

In addition to managing individual projects, program managers must consider the broader context of their programs. They use systems thinking to evaluate these projects’ combined organizational impact and interdependencies. This helps them to make informed decisions about resource allocation, risk management, and project prioritization.

Conflict management

Effective program management requires combining technical expertise, leadership, and communication skills. Program managers must be adept at managing competing priorities, negotiating resources, and communicating effectively with stakeholders at all levels of the organization. By maintaining a strategic focus and applying a systems thinking approach, program managers can ensure the success of their programs and the projects within them.

program management workshop

Program management involves overseeing initiatives to improve organizational performance while aligned with business objectives.

Small business priorities

Program management may not be a priority for small businesses. However, larger organizations must coordinate individual projects while considering the bigger picture. Project managers focus on delivering specific outcomes, whereas program managers take a broader perspective and consider the context of each situation.

Potential benefits

Program management offers several benefits, one of which is ensuring consistent governance and application of standards across multiple projects. This is achieved by establishing a single point of oversight, allowing project statuses to be easily aggregated for a global view. Doing so enables baseline quality requirements to be enforced evenly and more efficiently. This not only streamlines the management process but also enhances the overall quality of the projects.

Funding allocation

Program management is essential for organizations undertaking large strategic change initiatives requiring cooperation among departments and external stakeholders. It involves overseeing complex initiatives that require input from various departments and stakeholders. The program management approach offers a structured and systematic way of coordinating multiple projects and activities to ensure the overall program objectives are met within the specified scope, budget, and timelines. This approach is necessary to achieve any transformational activity, whether business, waterfall, agile, or digital.

Program management also involves overall financial and budget management, ensuring that funds are allocated appropriately across all active and planned projects rather than each project competing for funding. Embracing a program management approach can lead to significant benefits, including improved alignment of strategic goals, enhanced resource utilization, reduced risks, and increased stakeholder engagement.

What is the role of program management in an organization?

Organizations establish a Program Management Office (PMO) to manage strategic projects and change programs. This office assigns program managers to ensure consistent quality across all projects. Project managers work with program management by providing regular status updates and following their recommendations. Program managers combine various projects under their purview, evaluate how the comprehensive program is progressing, and provide a macro/strategic view. Program and product management are two distinct yet complementary roles. Product managers focus on the “what” and “why” of building a product, while program managers concentrate on the “how” and “when” of delivering it.

What are the qualities of an effective program management specialist?

Program managers need many skills to succeed, but practical communication skills are essential. This is because program managers have broad-ranging responsibilities, and their programs are apparent, making them crucial to the organization’s success.

Consequently, program managers must be experts in three primary types of communication: status reporting, direction setting, and problem-solving.

Status Reporting:

Effective reporting requires outstanding written, verbal, and organizational communication abilities. It requires program managers to provide detailed status updates in various formats to a diverse audience while maintaining the appropriate level of detail for everyone.

Direction Setting:

Setting directions is crucial in defining the scope and schedule of individual projects and project managers in their respective programs. To establish clear objectives and deadlines, program managers must ask challenging questions to evaluate project progress. This assessment process is critical in ensuring that programs remain on track and achieve their intended goals.

Problem Solving:

Program managers must possess strong problem-solving skills, a crucial aspect of their job. They must be prepared to tackle obstacles, challenges, and resistance that arise during the program’s course and devise action plans to ensure its success.

One of the most demanding aspects of the role is that program managers must demonstrate their authority over projects related to their program. They are accountable for a limited number of key deliverables that report to them. As a result, they must establish themselves as both senior leaders and the day-to-day representative of the executive sponsor of the initiative.

What are the characteristics that define effective program management?

Effective program management depends on several factors. Building consensus among numerous teams or lines of business is crucial to ensure that all stakeholders work towards a common goal and understand their roles in the plan. Proactively assessing risks as they arise, managing them effectively, and avoiding unnecessary complications is also imperative. In case of any issues, they should be escalated appropriately. Paying attention to detail is paramount, including closely monitoring project progress, linking it with budgets, deadlines, and strategic objectives, and ensuring that everything is thoroughly documented through personal effort or delegation to others.

The benefits of program management

  1. They are successfully attaining the overarching strategic objectives of a company.
  2. It enhances the management of project interrelationships and their effect on regular business operations.
  3. They are efficiently managing resources across multiple projects within a program.
  4. They are skilfully handling risks, issues, and modifications across the program.
  5. We are emphasizing the definition and administration of strategic advantages.

Achieving an organization’s strategic goals

Program management is a vital process that helps organizations achieve their strategic goals. It involves initiating, defining, accelerating, or terminating projects. For instance, a UK-based business looking to restructure its London teams may establish a shared service center in a lower-cost country to simplify processes and reduce costs. During the program, stakeholders may decide to eliminate overseas contract workers, replacing the center with a centralized team based in the UK, outside of London.

Improve project interdependency management and minimize its impact on business as usual.

Organizations can effectively manage multiple projects within a program by leveraging program management. This approach is instrumental in preventing any significant disruption caused by one project to another, which may potentially impact the organization’s regular ongoing business operations. A prime example of such a program could be a manufacturer’s IT system update program, which encompasses data storage, infrastructure, hardware, and software projects. Popular initiatives now are moving applications to the cloud and upgrading SAP ERP systems or transition planning to SAP S/4 Hana. The management of these projects is carried out to ensure uninterrupted workflow of the manufacturing operations, thereby maintaining business as usual. One possible approach to managing these projects is dividing them into stages, identifying critical business areas, and forming contingency plans to mitigate potential risks.

Managing resources efficiently across multiple projects in a program:

Program management is essential for effective resource management in organizations facing conflicting demands. It prioritizes tasks and allocates resources based on their respective needs. Organizations can source additional labor or assets to support program objectives when required. For instance, in construction projects, resource allocation is adjusted to accommodate new urgent works to optimize resource utilization and maintain project timelines. Program management streamlines work and resource allocation, resulting in successful outcomes and improved project performance.

Efficiently handle program risks, issues, and changes.

To handle multiple projects efficiently, it’s crucial to communicate risks clearly, manage issues effectively, and share lessons learned. Establish a governance structure, use online team share points sites, and tap into the expertise of subject matter experts. This approach can save costs and prevent delays associated with risks and issues. Adopting best practices can enhance project management efficiency and effectiveness. Proactive risk and issue management and fostering a culture of sharing lessons learned ensures that projects are completed positively, on time, and within budget.

Defining and managing strategic benefits within the program

A program manages projects with a shared vision, objectives, and goals. This approach helps organizations evaluate which projects align with their vision and which do not. For instance, a program can have the vision of becoming the world’s leading snack company. To reach this objective, it is necessary to undertake various projects such as launching new products, optimizing recipes, introducing new packaging formats, and exploring unique flavor combinations. Additionally, we should consider projects related to supply chain management, which may involve modifying production line speeds and improving resource utilization. These initiatives can help us achieve our goal of becoming the world’s top snack company.


Moving from tactical responses to strategic thinking can be challenging for project managers. However, program management prioritizes the latter. Program managers are crucial in ensuring that the company’s vision and direction are aligned with long-term value. They work closely with individuals who focus on short-term plans, sprints, and deadlines while keeping a keen eye on the company’s overall direction. For complex initiatives and transitions to be successful over extended periods, competent oversight is required from program managers, as programs act as the connective tissue that binds everything together.

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Unlock your business potential and tackle program management questions with the Noirwolf Team. We customize transformative solutions and establish a tailored program management office. Let’s start the conversation and unlock more value for your business. Check out our recent business transformation guide and change management process articles.

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