Characteristics and Attributes of a Program

In this post, we will review the attributes of a program in more detail. Recalling the definition, according to the PMI, “A program is a group of related projects, subprograms and program activities managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually.” The important point to highlight here is that all projects that are grouped under a program should be related by a unified goal or benefits, else they shouldn’t be part of the same program. So, when an organization launches such large programs, it is interested in the end outcomes or benefits and not so much in the individual deliverables of each program component or project.

The next attribute has to do with program interdependencies. While a program’s components such as projects are managed separately by their individual project managers, the interdependencies between them must be managed closely. This is unlike a portfolio where the components of the portfolio may not have any interdependencies with each other.

Another attribute of a program is that a program is more strategic in nature and focuses on overall benefits rather than focusing on the individual milestones. That doesn’t mean that the deliverables are not important but rather that the success of a program is tied to the ultimate delivery of the organizational benefits rather than on individual milestones. Also, compared to its components or projects, a program is much longer in duration. If we consider the lifecycle of a program, it has a program definition phase, followed by a program benefits delivery phase and then followed by closure. A program definition phase may take anywhere from a few weeks to many months. In this phase, all the subcomponents and projects are defined along with a vision and roadmap defined in how the various benefits from the projects will eventually come together to deliver overall program benefits. Once the program starts and enters the benefits delivery phase, that’s where the various projects will start and end with each project delivering its respective benefit. Each of the projects is started depending on how the program management team plans its delivery of benefits with respect to the delivery of the benefits of other projects. So, in a nutshell, a program takes much longer than a project may take.

Another vital program attribute is that a program’s benefits may be realized incrementally throughout the programs’ duration or can be realized all at once at the end. For example, a large system roll-out to consolidate different legacy systems can be realized in one big bang type of approach or it can be achieved incrementally by a gradual phasing out of systems and integrating that functionality into the new system. A program manager usually defines in the early parts of the program how various parts of the program will eventually deliver those benefits.

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