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The Program Manager Series: Mechanisms

Those who have worked with me know I'm all about mechanisms. Mechanisms is why some programs fly and other flop. Let me help you ensure yours soars.

We've all been there - the kickoff meeting finishes with a flurry of great intentions, exciting ideas, and ambitious goals. Then slowly but surely, things begin to slip through the cracks. Decisions get lost, actions sit idle, and accountability fades. Before you know it, that once-promising initiative is floundering. You, the Program Manager, the Single Threaded Leader, the Single Threaded Owner, have failed.

Why do so many programs that start with strong vision and commitment seem to lose steam though? More often than not, it comes down to a lack of consistent mechanisms to drive execution. As Jeff Bezos famously said:

Good intentions never work, you need good mechanisms to make anything happen.
- Jeff Bezos

As a program manager, it's critical to establish robust rhythms of business reviews, status updates, and governance forums. These mechanisms provide the regular pulse that keeps initiatives healthy and on track. Ever heard of WBRs? MBRs? QBRs? Weekly Status Updates? Flash Updates? Fret not and read along...

The Power of WBRs

Weekly Business Reviews are like a program's vitals check. Gathering each week to assess status on key work-streams, risks, milestones, and decisions provides critical visibility for the core team. Effective WBRs drive clarity, alignment, and accountability. They provide a cadence for surfacing issues early, clearing obstacles, and tracking actions.

Key traits: metrics driven, tactical, quick. The focus is on action items and concrete next steps to bridge back to plan, if needed. Ie. "what do we need to do this week/next week to address the problem we encountered last week". The long-term vision, strategy, direction of the business should not be discussed (nor questioned) in the WBR - but WBRs can often help identify the need for such conversations.

MBRs - Stepping Back to Observe the Big Picture

While WBRs focus on near-term execution, monthly business reviews enable broader long-range course correction. The monthly rhythm provides time to analyze trends, validate progress toward goals, and adjust plans. MBRs are a forum to synchronize cross-functional stakeholders, ensuring the program has support and visibility across the organization (often for the benefit of more senior stakeholders and leaders). Being intentional about this monthly engagement mitigates downstream surprises.

Key traits: longer and more extensive narratives around the key components of each program or business units. Focused on metrics, goals and, conversely to WBRs, forward looking plans (e.g. "Year to Go") to ensure the delivery of all business objectives.

QBRs - Time to Celebrate Wins and Recalibrate

Quarterly reviews are perfect for celebrating major milestones achieved by the program. They also represent a chance to step back and re-validate the strategic direction. The quarterly cadence allows adjustments based on shifting business conditions and lessons learned. It's wise to use QBRs to formally realign all stakeholders, renew commitment, and build momentum for the next phase. QBRs should reach to a much wider array of stakeholders (think about all of those people who would want to know, but don't have to be kept in the loop every week or every month), often more senior.

Key traits: the most expansive type of narrative. Extensive focus on the previous quarter as well as on the quarter/quarters ahead. Hot and meaty topics are often brought up in these forums, where the audience can discuss them at length to ensure the program/business unit has what it needs to either course correct or double down.

The Simple Power of Weekly Status Updates

By far the mechanism I prefer (and the one I've already covered extensively here). Short weekly email updates may seem trivial compared to major reviews. But in aggregate, they provide invaluable visibility into day-to-day progress and issues. These regular check-ins show stakeholders your program is humming along smoothly, or rapidly highlight risks and blockers.

Consistent status updates also demonstrate program management discipline and rigor. They also help build trust with your closest stakeholders and leaders.

Key traits: usually email flash updates that mix metrics, goals and brief narratives. Often focused on action items, highlights and lowlights.

Regular Meetings

A key part of driving disciplined execution is implementing consistent governance meetings (or asynchronous alternatives). Daily standup's, weekly syncs, and monthly reviews provide the regular pulse and visibility needed to achieve goals. Often though, meetings lack rigor and don't bring enough value for all participants and, contrary to emails, they do consume participants' time and cost significantly more to the company. World-class program management requires maximizing the value of each governing forum, and there are ways to do that repeatedly. As we delve deeper into this series, we will cover best practices for governance, facilitation and preparation (e.g. "meeting agenda, action items, minutes of the meeting, and much more!"). Stick around!

Key traits: each program will have its own cadences. Whether daily, weekly, bi-weekly or less regular, recurrent meetings aim at grouping and rallying the most crucial set of stakeholders for the success of your initiative. Leverage them wisely though and do be afraid to stop the cadence if no longer required.

Stakeholder Management

Proactive stakeholder management is vital for programs to deliver results. Bringing stakeholders along each step of the journey mitigates risk and drives engagement. Depending on your organization, there might be tools that can help you manage stakeholders at scale: internal wiki pages, Google docs or Microsoft SharePoint, Asana, Notion, or similar project trackers, etc.

Key traits: Identify the most crucial stakeholders early and implement mechanisms to provide appropriate transparency. Conduct regular reviews to validate direction. Celebrate wins to maintain engagement. Don't be afraid to adjust strategies over time as stakeholder needs evolve.

Activating the Right Rhythms

The bottom line is that consistent mechanisms transform intentions into outcomes. They build the governance and discipline to drive program success. Without proper rhythms, even the most well intentioned teams will falter. If you want to make the shift from theoretical alignment to relentless execution, implement robust mechanisms. Don’t let another day go by without a WBR, status update or governance forum that moves your program from good intentions to results.

In next articles we'll dive deeper into each mechanism, with templates and best practices. Stay tuned for more tips on building program management excellence!

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