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On safari with Thomas Walenta

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The ProgM SIG Annual General Meeting was held on Thursday 14th May, kindly hosted by CH2M at their offices in Hammersmith, London.  The AGM was followed by an entertaining and thoughtful presentation by Thomas Walenta on “Project and programme management are two different animals, don’t underestimate the gap”.

The meeting was led by Alan Macklin, APM Board Deputy Chair and ProgM SIG committee member who invited us into his ‘home territory’ and congratulated the hardy big game hunters who made it through the monsoon outside (and attendant transport issues).  James Rowntree formally welcomed us on behalf of CH2M, an organisation at the forefront of managing large infrastructure programmes and who are working with APM to develop the profession to ensure future success.

Alan – as ever not one to hang around – presented the Chairman’s report on behalf of Merv Wyeth, noting that the report had been circulated previously in the ProgM SIG Spring newsletter.  Attention was drawn to the past and future opportunities for members to ensure their voice was heard: the 4th PPM Global survey by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the APM’s “Conditions for Project Success” (and how we can build on both for these together for the 5th PPM Global Survey) and finally a rallying cry for APM members to vote in the forthcoming Board Elections.  Andrew Gray issued a call for help on behalf of Geoff Reiss for support in the refresh of the “Introduction to Programme Management” guide (those interested please contact Geoff).  Applications were received by the following for membership of the ProgM SIG committee and as there were no objections from those present, all were duly accepted on to the committee.


The audience then settled down to listen to Thomas Walenta on the subject of the gap between programme and project management.  Thomas has a wealth of experience from his years at IBM managing multi-national programmes and from his position as a PMI Fellow. Thomas proposed that project and programme managers are two different animals.  Project managers are Lions – the great protector, short term focused on the hunt which needs to be achieved swiftly to be successful.  Programme managers are Elephants – taking the long term view and the destroyer of obstacles.  Building on that theme in order to explain the differences to senior executives, Thomas explored some of the business performance surveys that underline the importance of benefits management and how the programme is driven to achieve success through benefits realisation.  Thomas listed 5 gaps between projects and programmes:

  • The Success definition gap – a successful project (in terms of achieving outputs) is not necessarily a successful programme (Terminal 5 was discussed in this context in Q&A)
  • The Education gap – there is increasing academic focus and courses on project management, but less so for programme management
  • The Methodology gap – Project methods do not provide the means of undertaking programme management
  • The Capabilities gap – the capabilities and competences in a programme manager are different to those in a project manager
  • The Inward/Outward orientation gap – project managers are inwardly focused on planning, controlling and delivering to time, cost and scope: programme managers look outwards to benefits/strategy, stakeholders and governance in order to understand, create and achieve 

The presentation was well received, especially in understanding how programme management provides the links between involved and affected stakeholders, and the integration between projects/tasks.  For those looking to learn more about programme management, the evening provided a good guide - particularly through the minefields of taxonomy and project/programme benefits - and for the more experienced practitioners it gave a means of taking the discussion to senior organisation management (especially armed with the value arguments).

The following questions and discussion covered how to develop the required skills and experience for programme management as a career path, how good project managers do not necessarily make good programme managers (and vice versa) – Alan used the football team / manager analogy here to illustrate the point – and the blurring caused by the concept that projects can, indeed ‘should’, deliver benefits (but the project manager in this circumstance needs to be wearing the skin of a programme manager).
It was noted that the project vs programme language with stakeholders was critical – as practitioners we have to be very clear in our taxonomy usage with our own community, but with stakeholders our responsibility is to translate this into language they are comfortable with.

Finally Alan led the vote of thanks to Thomas from the audience, with everyone happy that they managed to discuss the elephants in the room….


You can contact ProgM and contribute in a number of ways:
On Twitter @apmprogmsig
ProgM Microsite
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