Functioning of a PM in a broader perspective

I’ve heard a lot of naysayers about program management, and there seems to be a belief that the people in this role are “box checkers”. However, I may be in the minority in my belief that if done well, and with a strategic bend (at the leadership level), this role could be an excellent stepping stone to bigger and better things. However, this is merely a hypothesis that I am looking validate (or invalidate).

In your experience, as leaders, what is the most you’ve seen someone make of owning the Program Management function? How did they leverage it to either get broader exposure to the business, build operational strength / clout, or perhaps meet some other broader objective? And, since this likely colors the angle which this person took the role – what organization did their team roll into?

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My old company brought in a program manager to “revamp” the troubled business, and he was charged with all kinds of cross-functional tasks of great importance. He was constantly meeting with execs, and doing a lot. It was a really important role.
Sadly, he also failed miserably…

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Interesting @Marco - thanks for sharing. Do you think there was anything he could have done to not fail, or scoped the role to set himself up for a better chance of success?

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@Natasha, He was not the right person for the job, but also pretty sure that anyone would have failed in that role. They eventually shut the whole company down because we couldn’t figure things out.

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@Marco, Fair. If you could think of one quality that someone might posses that would have made him more successful (or the narrative being he did his best but it was an impossible task) — what would it be?

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I assume, @Natasha, that you don’t mean Program Management in the Microsoft sense? The place I see these roles being most helpful are at tech-enabled companies (like banks!) where technology/IT is a cost center, plays an enabling role across multiple groups, and where timing and cross-department dependencies are really critical. For example, an insurance company trying to role out a tool to internal auditors and office managers to meet a regulatory guideline. (Or, I guess, enterprise software companies doing something similar for multiple clients with complex integrations.)Since I’m crap at that kind of careful, complex coordination I tend to run away from companies that need it and am always more focused on trying to eliminate cross-team dependencies…

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@Karan - bingo— MSFT program management is precisely what I am thinking. At Amazon it’s typically called Product Launch Management.

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I’m pretty sure what Microsoft calls Program Management is just what the rest of the world calls product management.

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They have both — actually. Their Product Managers from what I understand are more technical whereas their ‘PMs’ (program managers) are the business side…

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My understanding from working with former MSFT program managers is the same as @KaranTrivedi — that their “program managers” are what everyone else calls product managers.

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So @Risa - in that case, would the person at your team have been more successful if they operated as a Product Manager vs program?

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Naw, my example was about a role that 99% of companies would call program management. He was not a product manager.

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Job titles can mean so many things in different companies, most of the time its actually about what that role does, is responsible for and is measured against that matters.
I mean I’ve met plenty of Product Managers in the past that weren’t doing Product, at least the Marty Cagan esque definition. They were analysts or project managers