Program Management has evolved drastically over the time and to my surprise, every day there is something new you can learn, although I have spent close to a decade in this field. Role of a program manager varies from one organisation to another, but underlying principles, responsibilities, motivation and impact are always the same. To get more insight I want to talk about how a day looks like for your usual Program Manager - The core set of roles and responsibilities that program managers undertake on a daily basis.
Almost in every organisation that I have been part of, there's always been this one constant question - What does a program manager do? Well, after having tried to answer it a few times, I now decided to write about it. I hope it helps provide a bit of clarity into the world of program management.
A short glimpse of initial impressions 😀
Hmm… Well, allow me to clarify with some details on how the program manager navigates their day!!
The 1st 'golden' hour of the day usually comes with positive energy, high concentration and potentially plays the most important role in making your day productive and successful. At this hour, a Program Manager usually spends time in reading/reverting emails, going through all open chats/threads (Slack/Google Chat etc.) and Identifying key action items for the day. Exit criteria for program manager during the 1st hour of the day, looks like a personalised tracker, which will act as a guide for the whole day and will help in making your day constructive and productive. I personally prefer to use Google Keep (Also known as Keep Notes) for tracking activities.
2nd hour & 3rd hour of the day usually starts with Jour fixe (Jfx) - (Yes, I had the same reaction, after reading this word for the 1st time- Google it please). This hour is the most important and crucial in terms of making stakeholders' days productive. Program manager primarily focuses upon steering the Jfx, making sure all important topics are covered, the team is not deviating away from defined agenda and most important, all key action items are documented. Exit criteria for this hour would be, to make sure all stakeholders (Engineers, Product Manager, Engineering Manager, Data Analyst, Designers, Sponsors- List varies from product to product) are aware, aligned and understand what they have to do during the entire day.
It's highly suggested, to make sure Agenda is in place before the meeting, as for all other meetings as a default.
Based on my experience there is no right or wrong tool to be used for Jfx, choose a tool which is comfortable for your audience to consume and update. Key idea is to make sure everyone understands and updates action items regularly.
4th hour & 5th hour of the day can go in two directions, 1st (Happy Scenario) - Program Manager has received alignment from stakeholders in Jfx and is now focusing on project management specific work including updating project artefacts (Program Plan, Risk Register, Updating/Automating Project Dashboards), 2nd (Not so happy scenario but realistic scenario) - program manager has received an ad hoc task from stakeholders or there is sudden change in priority list or new change request has been brought in the equation or the design team came up with a brilliant idea and the list goes on. Yeah, Alright - I know at this point, probably if you are a program manager you have already been in this tricky situation 🙂.
This is the most exciting and difficult part of being a Program Manager, there will be challenges and there are opportunities. At one time you feel it's not working for me, but if you are a survivor who loves challenges then you are going to love it to the core. Also at this point, it could happen that you spend the rest of your day rearranging the task list, getting alignment, conducting ad hoc meetings and so on.
6th hour & 7th hour of the day usually gets into resolving cross functional dependencies among different business units, unblocking the team, having some time for ad hoc meetings and so on. This hour is really important, as now in the current set of work we cannot launch a product, without involvement of multiple teams, hence cross functional alignment is necessary. Highly used skills for program managers in this phase are persuasion, planning and tracking. Primary thing is to get alignment (Persuasion skills will be used here), once alignment is in place sequencing (Planning skills) is the next step, and post that tracking, as if one team slips delivery, it might impact all other connected activities.
8th 'most awaited' hour of the day usually involves coffee chats with various stakeholders which helps in building your network, which is one of the important parts of a Program Manager job in complex matrix organisations. In addition to coffee chats, the Program Manager focuses on individual work, which varies on a day to day basis like updating weekly status reports, collating and sending updates to leadership team, keep a close eye on key metrics and so on and finally most important task preparing for next day and making sure to update personalised tracker, that was prepared during 1st hour. This hour is mostly the longest, as this is the last hour of the day and there are still endless things to be done.
Phew…and maybe some days are not even that sorted and everything is jumbled up? Not to worry we persevere…We try to bring everything back into the structure best suitable. Sequencing of hours might vary from one Individual to another Individual and also varies in different organisations and even there are few activities which are completely unaligned but still the show goes on.
I hope after reading this, you will have some context on what program managers do, and also at the same time you might have a plethora of questions.