Setting the course in project management: What you can learn from our customers

Large change projects require a completely different approach from what is generally understood as project management.

While "normal" projects such as a software roll-out or an order-based variant development are supposed to deliver clearly-specified results or products, programs aim to bring about fundamental changes in the company. Examples of such strategic project are reorganizations and realignments, consolidations and cost-optimization programs, or the development of a completely new product family (just think of the new BMW electric cars i3 and i8). What does that distinction mean? To put it in somewhat simplistic terms: project management has access to a proven set of methods that must "only" be applied consistently. The management of programs, on the other hand, is primarily an issue of leadership. There is agreement as to what should be achieved, but the way there is not clear yet. The end result is not clear at the beginning, and may change several times over the course of several years.

We examined a sample group of 25 large projects and have identified the following success factors for leadership in program management: the strategic direction of individual activities, often a large number of simultaneous projects, must be assessed and balanced on a continuous basis. This requires a permanent feedback process with stakeholders. Also, the program manager is the game-maker that motivates and supports the various project managers during the entire period. The performance of the overall project is managed with a governance approach that is primarily concerned with ensuring that the agreed organizational rules of the game are implemented. That is, there is less controlling of individual projects at the program level; rather, the intelligent cooperation between the various projects is at the forefront. But the crucial question for each activity is as follows: does the planned measure take us a big step towards the final business benefit; does it allow us to achieve the desired benefits that are supposed to come out of the program? Our opinion: if an organization is structured in such a way, it has set the course for challenging programs that lead to successful outcomes.