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No matter what industry you’re in, the dynamics of the marketplace are changing at lightning speed. New technologies, fierce competition, and demanding customer expectations require enterprises to be increasingly nimble in their strategic responses. However, a strategy is nothing without excellence in execution.  When the stakes are high and failure is not an option, a disciplined program management approach is critical to the successful implementation of strategic initiatives.

By their very nature, strategic initiatives are complex, cross-functional undertakings. Therefore, quality outcomes, that are on-time and on-budget, require more than just oversight of individual tasks. Program management (PM) provides the well-orchestrated coordination of multiple moving parts to drive successful results. Here are four critical elements of program management that will keep your strategic initiatives on track.

Identify Challenges

A bold initiative implemented by an enterprise will not be contained within a single functional silo. Sales, Product Development, Operations, IT and Billing all overlap and intersect in ways you may not expect prior to undertaking a large-scale, cross-discipline project. The more people and departments you add to the mix, the higher the risks.

Program management drives the first key step – coordinating a program implementation plan that specifies not only the “who”, “what” and “when” of individual action steps, but also the interdependencies and alignment required across all functions.

Underlying the program plan must be explicit assumptions for resource and budget requirements. Key milestones are also identified and mapped to a timeline. These all enable early warning indicators of potential implementation challenges.

Communicate Big Picture

Why do you need someone to help manage communication? Simply put, with a cross-functional strategic initiative, an enterprise cannot risk only hearing silo-focused perspectives on progress and issues.

The program management team typically sits in a neutral organization, separate and apart from the operational units involved in the implementation. The PM team is in a unique position to provide concise, unbiased feedback on status, issues, and risks. From their vantage point, they see the big picture and understand the critical interdependencies.

Because their eyes and ears are everywhere, it’s up to the program managers to communicate not only within the working-level team but also to the stakeholder executives. Statuses against milestones, budgets, and issues are communicated with that big picture perspective and with an eye towards the cross-functional impacts.

Tackle Problems Fast

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news – and with every complex program implementation, there will be problems and bad news. The program management role is to sniff out the smoke before it turns into a fire. The PM can identify issues that the team may be trying to work from their ground-floor view, not recognizing the big picture and the effect to the overall plan.

Communicating problems, identifying options for getting back on track, and coordinating resolution is the value that program management brings.  They not only work the problem with team members who can take corrective action, but the PM also involves senior stakeholders who can authorize issue resolution steps, making sure that problems are handled before they turn into jeopardy.

Learn through Continuous Improvement

It is critically important to conduct a “lessons learned” session after the completion of each program. Program managers are skilled at facilitating these feedback sessions, enabling each team member to provide input on what worked well, what didn’t and what new improvements should be incorporated into future implementations. Again, the PM sees the resounding effects of all the moving parts at a macro level. It’s their job to learn from each program and to incorporate changes for continuous improvements.

On a parting note, some businesses have not implemented program management, believing that is an unnecessary overhead. However, the costs incurred from strategic initiatives stricken with jeopardies and delays can easily outweigh the cost of a program management office. Enterprises simply cannot afford for strategic initiatives to not be implemented on time, on budget and with quality. Follow these four steps and you’ll soon realize the positive business impacts of program management.

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