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Ease your path into programme management

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You’ve been in project management for a few years with some good achievements under your belt. You feel you need a fresh challenge and want to stretch yourself. People say you would make a good programme manager, and it seems like the obvious next step. So, you decide to go for it.

But do you really know what programming managing is about? Some go into the role feeling it is just about managing bigger projects. Maybe you can’t quite put your finger on why it feels harder to be effective. Does this sound familiar?

Most people spend anything from a few weeks to many months adjusting to the demands of a new job, alongside much pain and worry in the intervening period! So if you’re looking for your next step in project managing, plan to become a programme manager or are already there, here are three top tips on how to make the transition into the role a little easier.

Think (and act) like a business owner
Put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholders. Where do their teams excel, what challenges do they have, what outcomes do they need to achieve to deliver their vision? Start by pulling together a simple SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) for their business area: take time out and have real conversations with your stakeholders and their colleagues to really get under the skin of their business. This will show you to be genuinely interested in their function which will in turn build your credibility, and will also help you communicate their position to your delivery teams.

A good way to think about this is that you are being sub-contracted a piece of somebody’s business, with a responsibility to turn it into a success. You must walk the walk if you want to talk the talk!

Learn to love problems
It’s normal to think of risks and issues as problems. Things that ‘get in the way’ of a successful delivery, which add to your team’s overall challenges and stress levels.

You will be managing across numerous projects, workstreams and BAU teams, and along the way will likely encounter various change to business strategies requiring you to adjust your path. Problems will be a way of life! The secret is to see threats and challenges as opportunities, and to welcome them. Try to see them as a gift from the future, which are presenting themselves to you now, as opposed to a time at a later date when it may be too late.

Look across the programme and seek to balance the priority of risks and issues, in close alignment with the benefits and overall objectives. Measure them less against the impact on the individual deliveries (project managers will do this), and instead focus on whether they are detracting you from your overall goals and aims. 

Be authentic and lead
Finally, and probably most importantly, be authentic. Programme management forces you to bring your complete self to the role.

The best leaders take a broader world view to problem solving. Seek personal growth in the following areas:

  • Be the best possible version of yourself – don’t try to be something you’re not.
  • Speak from the heart as well as the head – are people buying into your messaging?
  • Acknowledge that there are rarely perfect solutions, sometimes ‘okay’ is good enough.
  • Recognise that criticism or questioning is not personal.
  • Be open to your stakeholders’ positions, and consider their present mental and emotional states.
  • Keep a sense of humour.

Success in the role becomes much more biased towards behavioural competency, alongside your technical knowledge. Focusing on these three areas should help you to quickly adjust when you move up the path and into an exciting role in programme management.

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