Book Review: From Projects to Programs, a Program Manager’s Journey

  • Can you define Program Management?
  • How different is it from Project Management?
  • What does a Program Manager ‘do’ if they are not managing the projects in their program?

Those are a few of the questions that a new Program Manager would be looking to answer when they open From Projects to Programs, A Program Manager’s Journey, by  Samir Penkar, PMP, CSM.  Outside of the Standard for Program Management, most new Program Managers seemed to be on their own in figuring their roles. Until now.

When you start the book, our hero, Susan Codwell, takes a stab at the definition by writing down the following list of words:

“Oversight, oversee, orchestra conductor, communicator, benefits focused, manage uncertainty, strategy alignment, stakeholder engagement, governance, program cadence, risk management, resource optimization, manager of project managers, financial management, mentoring, creating accountability, leading multidiscipline teams, interface with senior management, competency in project management discipline and integration management.”

It seems like a lot, doesn’t it?  Not to worry – Susan will walk through most of these roles during the story and give you an inside glimpse on her choices and decisions.

It’s this inside view that makes the book unique.  As Susan learns how to step back from the Project Manager’s perspective and look at her program as a whole, you can take notes in the margin on how she evolves.

With your front row view of her program, you can see how a Program Manager picks up a large, undefined set of projects and begins to create a governance structure and the processes she needs to track program benefits.

While the story is useful for walking through her thought process and learning, I found the interviews and resources in the Appendix to be almost as valuable as the story.  The Appendix provided two interviews with program managers, a brief Agile Primer and resources to help define and track your program benefits and a short article on how the role of a PMO.

In the end, Susan Codwell boiled her long list of Program Management responsibilities into three core focus areas for a strong Program Manager.

  • Governance
  • Benefits Management
  • Integration

At the end of her story, she is successful and we have a few nuggets of wisdom on how to be a program manager, but a few nagging questions remain.  Our character never really faced / worked through a problem in the plot.  So the new Program Manager would be  left with a few open questions:

  • What are warning signs of a program in trouble?
  • What happens if my PMs are struggling?
  • How do I manage stakeholders who don’t like some of the program’s benefits?

On the other hand, there  aren’t many books out there that can help a PM in the middle of Transitioning into a Program Manager role.  For an introduction to the world of Program Management, this book is a good place to start.  Have you read any other Program Management books you’d recommend?  Leave a comment, send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.


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