Published April 21, 2021
If you've got a craving for the warm and satisfying feeling of setting up a solid program, you've come to the right place.
Below is a recipe to guide you through the basic steps that I take to create a machine of productivity. When you serve this to your guests, don't be surprised when they say "Oh my God, how do you do it?". You can send them the link to this article, or just play it cool, throw a Paul Newman smile at them and say "My pleasure."
Prep Time: 1 Day
Total Cook Time: 6 Weeks
1 Program Manager
1 Business Lead
1 Project Manager (Substitute with any tactical resource available)
1 Program Model (See Figure 1 below)
1 Program Tracker (incl. Goals, KPIs, Program Milestones, Program Roadmap, Project Plan(s), and RAID log)
7 Workstream Owners (or to taste)
1 Key Stakeholder p/ Workstream
3 to 5 Steering Committee Members (ideally SVP or above)
1 Executive Sponsor p/ Company
Current State: Understanding the Situation
Gather as much information about the scope of the program as possible. This should be provided by the business leader who requested a program manager. You’ll need to know high-level goals (typically no more than 3 to 5), time constraints, budget constraints, and teams/resources that will be involved. Your conversation might go like this...
You: “So tell me where are we at right now? What are we trying to accomplish? By when are we trying to accomplish these things? Who do we have onboard right now? Who do we need onboard?”
Business Lead: “Sure. We are trying to build a new feature set that lets customers save their buying preferences for an auto purchase. The platform should then provide available inventory within a set radius of their location. Right now we have some mockups and high-level requirements from the product team. We’re hoping to complete and pilot an MVP in Q2 and then launch sometime in Q3. The product team already has this in their plan. We’ll likely need to talk to Mary Fines on the marketing side, and Jack Nelson in sales to get them aligned. From a services standpoint we’ll want to reach out to Rebecca Harper.”
Schedule a 30 minute meeting with your Business Lead and workstream owners to discuss at a high-level: What needs to get done to achieve the high-level goals in the next 6 months (See below for a list of common activities). Enter the milestones into the Program Tracker - Program Milestones tab.
NOTE: You pick the next 6 months because it is a reasonable amount of time for people to plan out. Beyond 6 months things get blurry.
With the help of your Business Lead, fill in the names in your Program Model. You’ll need to explain the roles to make sure you have the right names in each box. A simple explanation could be:
You will also need to create a Communication Plan that details the tactics you will use to drive progress, track status, and keep stakeholders and the Executive Steering Committee Informed. A standard communication plan could be:
Schedule a 30 minute meeting with your Business Lead, Key Stakeholders, and Workstream Owners. Present the Program Model and explain the different role expectations. If you have multiple Key Stakeholders and/or multiple Workstream Owners, consolidate wherever possible to reduce the number of touchpoints that you’ll need to manage. Also present that Program Tracker - Program Milestones tab and challenge the group to ensure the milestones are accurately described and expectations around updating status.
An Executive Steering Committee is assigned to maintain strategic alignment and serve as an escalation point for critical risks and issues that the Key Stakeholders have resolved or cannot resolve on their own. Schedule a 30 minute meeting with your Business Lead to align on the purpose of the Executive Steering Committee and work with them to engage each member. Once each member is onboard schedule a 1 hour meeting to review the Program Model and the Program Tracker. Apply any feedback that you get from this group to those two deliverables.
Schedule a recurring 30 to 60 minute meeting to review the Program Tracker with your Workstream Owners. For each milestone, the assigned workstream owner should provide a % complete, confirmation of start and end dates, and provide a status update that includes risks or issues that they are currently dealing with.
Prepare an email for everyone in the program model that will include a bulleted list of highlights from the current reporting period, as well as a snapshot of the KPIs, Program Roadmap and the Program Milestone Tracker.
Prepare an email for all Workstream Owners to update the Program Tracker - Program Milestones tab before your weekly Program Update Sync meeting.
These are sample milestones that you can use to inspire the conversations you have with your workstream owners. In reality, they shouldn’t need you to do this for them as they should be experts in their field (i.e. a Product Manager should understand the steps involved in developing a product and developing a go-to-market strategy)...
This is the way I typically structure programs but there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do this. The key elements are simply that you have clear swim lanes for work, owners of those swim lanes, people to escalate to for each swim lane, and a decision and strategic escalation group that sits atop all of it...
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