<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none;" alt="" src="https://analytics.twitter.com/i/adsct?txn_id=l5gmh&amp;p_id=Twitter"> <img height="1" width="1" style="display:none;" alt="" src="//t.co/i/adsct?txn_id=l5gmh&amp;p_id=Twitter">

    Keyy Blog

    Unlock your true potential.

    Written by Luke Summerfield
    on November 11, 2015


    Being HubSpot's first ever Program Manager, there was a lot of fuzziness about what a "Program" technically is and what a "Program Manager" role is. 

    So I did what I normally do ... researched, read and talk to others about how "Program Management" is viewed in other organizations. I then blended those ideas with others from areas like Lean Software Developement, Agile Process and my own experiences. 

    The result is the below notebook entry which outlines my framework and process for modern Program Management. I feel this builds off many of the traditional Program Management ideas while integrating many of the key principles of Lean and Agile. Enjoy!


    Let me first clear up what the difference between project and program management. 


    A project generally have a specific deliverable. They are reasonably well defined and although they can be complicated, they are generally not complex. Their focus is tactical or operational.

    A program deliver multiple projects which, together, produce business benefits. They are generally complex with frequent realignments required during their life cycle. Their alignment is with the business strategy and they are business focused. 

    A program should ONLY exist if it brings benefits over and above those that could be achieved by managing the projects independently

    • High predictability
    • Based on data/statistics and rational thinking
    • Often is contained within one department (not always)
    • Defined deliverables
    • Low level of change and fairly limited scope
    • Bigger decisions are generally made (decisions on details, yet to be made)
    • Low predictability, high ambiguity
    • Less rational and more "unknown/unknowns" with multiple variables
    • Often spans across multiple departments
    • Deliverables cannot be clearly defined and are unpredictable
    • Requires a high level of change with broad scope with flexible boundaries
    • Decisions are still to be made


    A set deliverable - either a product or service Business value that is aligned with strategic objective



    Project Manager (ProjM) / DRI*Program Manager (ProgM)

    Manage the delivery of a specific project  (ensuring it's alignment with other projects and overall program)

    Discovering and organizing an overall program (made up of multiple pieces) who's end result is focused on producing business value (based on strategic objectives)

    Sandbox Phase:

     - n/a, (but can contribute as needed)

    Implementation Phase:

     - Develop scope and roadmap

     - Build and manage implementation team

     - Typically works within their specific department

     - Task & deliverable management

     - Project risk mitigation

     - Project documentation & reporting

     - Internal project marketing

     - Manage the iteration cycle once the initial project has launched

    Evaluation Phase:

     - Report on their specific project with program manager

    Sandbox Phase:

     - Brainstorm and determine highest impact items based on strategic objectives

     - Lean experimentation to validate impact of ideas

     - Once validated, initiate and sponsor the creation of new projects within a program

    Implementation Phase:

     - Build and manage teams to implement projects and align outcomes with program goals

     - Build long-term relationships and partnerships with stakeholders

     - Is overarching between departments and is the "glue" between them

     - Overall program risk mitigation

     - Stakeholder, resource and reporting management / championing 

     - Internal program marketing

    Evaluation Phase:

     - Evaluate project output and determine when to keep, grow, kill or pivot


    Success is measured by producing a deliverable:

     - On budget, on time

     - Complete, high quality delivery

     - Aligned with other projects, stakeholders and overall program goals

    Success is measured by the overall program's (sum of all projects) ability to:

     - Drive business value and benefits

     - Reaches original strategic objective

    Additional Program Notes:
    Programs can also be used to test new ways of doing business, develop new business models, prototype new organizational structures or transition the business into a different overall focus

    Ideally a program manager should never also be project managing a project. This will cause them to get too distracted from overall business value output.
    Stakeholder = Leader within a department / department group who has interest in the program/project (typically a VP or Director, sometimes manager). You will have multiple stakeholders involved, may times with different goals and accountabilities. This will need to be balanced / sync'ed by the program manager through stakeholder management (as described below). 
    Sponsor = A higher up who's backing the project/program and will work as an advisor and help push for resource allocation (typically a VP or C- level).

     * The term Project Manager and DRI are interchangeable. Think of "Project Manager" less of a job title and more role within an initiative.   


    Let's dissect each step in detail...


    Each year the head honcho's determine what our strategic objectives are and roll those down to the various department. 

    The program manager's main objective is to bridge the gap from these strategic objectives and the output. They do this through developing a program comprised of projects who's sum add up to realized business value and attain the strategic objective. 

    Once the Program Manager is given the strategic objectives they can then move into the Sandbox Phase...



    Think of the "sandbox phase" like a playground where the program manager can research / brainstorm, play around and validate ideas that will help drive business value. 


    1. Meet with "higher ups" to dig into and fully understand the Strategic Objective and why it's important to the business
    2. Complete the Program Vision, Mission and Charter Document
    3. Define the "one metric that matters" (OMTM) & leading indicators
      1. Check proper tracking is setup to track OMTM & leading indicators (if not, set it up)
      2. Based on strategic objective, set milestone goals
      3. Pick the first metric to focus 
    4. Admin setup - clone project management framework, setup docs, etc.
    Program Manager Role:

    In "Sandbox" phase, program manager completes (or manages a team) who completes all of the above tasks. But, in addition to that, the ProgM also will:

    • Understand and interpret a corporate vision and mission and translate it into clear strategic objectives for the program

    • Interview different level of management, stakeholders and team members to understand their needs and expectations



    1. Define and create personas this program will focus on
      1. Use the persona template
      2. Include any assumptions and questions that we have - we will work to answer these in the research step
    2. User Research
      Note - Solve for the User: Take an Empathetic approach and put yourselves in their shoes
        • Avoid the trap of thinking about it through HubSpot's eyes. Disassociate from HubSpot and place yourselves in their shoes.
        • Role play / make believe / ask questions as if you ARE the user. 
        • Try to schedule time to go visit them in their "natural environment"
      • Narrow your scope around the one metric that matters (OMTM) (and leading indicators)
              - Reverse engineer the process
              - Look at the group who has completed the goal, then reverse engineer the process to see what that group did differently
              - This will help open up the door for questions to answer in your following research 
              - Develop more user questions you'd like to answer

      • Program Management Research Process  - Includes quantitative, qualitative and observational research
      • Document all of your user learnings and findings

    3. Creative Solution Brainstorming Session
      • Invite select group from the company to help with brainstorming
               -  Have a mix of roles, departments (both those who do and don't interact with the users)
      • Fill them into the research and learnings
      • Use the Creative Solution Brainstorming Process
    4. Sort and prioritize (impact, effort) top project ideas
      • Pick the most impactful ideas to move to the next phase (project manager)
      • Run some top ideas past customers and internal

    5. Find "Peace and Harmony" 
      • Between solving for the user and company goals.
              -  The ultimate purpose of the program is to create value for the customers. It's common for the company's goals and user needs not to 100% align. At this step, you must find creative way to balance the two and ensure both are being met.

      • Between ideal (unlimited budget/time/tech) and realistic
      • Make sure the ideas you choose still are the top ideas after finding "Peace and Harmony"

    6. Select top 1-3 project ideas to move to next step (and experiment)
    Program Manager Role:

    In "Sandbox" phase, program manager completes (or manages a team) who completes all of the above tasks. But, in addition to that, the ProgM also will:

     - Decide which ideas will move onto the Problem / Solution Fit phase


    In order to find out if your ideas will indeed drive the business value, we will run through a rapid deployment experiment cycle.



    1. Plan:
      • Complete the Problem / Solution Fit document
      • Identify and get key stakeholders onboard with the idea
      • Stakeholder Kickoff: Specify their specific needs, expectations and gain project alignment - [Stakeholder Kickoff Meeting Agenda]
      • Define expected outcomes (and gain stakeholder agreement)
    2. Experiment: 
      • Develop a Minimum Viable Test (MVT)
               - Boil the idea down to it's core, figure out how to test it in the next 5 days with zero budget
      • Develop an experiment team (optional - depends on the experiment)
      • Map out experimental design - [Experimental Design Planner]
      • Determine minimum viable audience (MVA)
      • Build minimum viable "product" (MVP) to run your experiment on
      • After running the experiment, review results
      • Document and publish what you learned
    3. Fit?
      • Did users care about your idea / MVT? (back up with data)
      • Was it sticky with users? (back up with data)

      • Did it provide the business value expected in the Hypothesis?
        • YES! (smile) - If business value was validated from your MVT... party for a second... then ask:
           - Was the MVT large enough? (probably not) 
           - If the MVT went well... Return to "plan" step and run trough the cycle again with a larger, more built out test of your idea.
           - Continue this loop until you're confident in your experiment's outcome can be replicated on a full scale project rollout

        • NOPE (smile) - If experiment did not validate hypothesis or no business value, 
           - Review your test to see if there were any experimental errors or if you're running the wrong test
           - If not, move back to the previous "Experiment" step
           - If this happens (2-5) times, consider moving the idea back a step and re-brainstorm
    4. Validated Value! - Once you've created a big enough experiment to have confidence it will replicate in a project rollout

    Program Manager Roles:

    In "Sandbox" phase, program manager completes (or manages a team) who completes all of the above tasks.  But, in addition to that, the ProgM also will:

    • Help resolve conflicting interests and negotiate with different stakeholders to reach agreement on program objectives and resources
    • Decision to continue running experiments or flip to #4 "Validated Value" and roll it into a project


    Once an idea has been vetted and validated in the Sandbox Phase, it can then move into the Implement Phase where it will be built into a full-fledged project within the program as a whole. 

    This Sandbox Phase should always be happening at some level. This doesn't mean that all of the ideas will all be implemented, however, it's key to always be testing and vetting new ideas against existing programs.



    The implement phase is where we take a idea / MVP and develop it into a full project to roll out to the team. 


    1. Develop a Project Charter
      • Includes a Why, How, What analysis to explain where the project fits in
    2. Talk to respective stakeholders and gain buy-in
    3. Recruit a Project Manager / DRI to lead the project
    4. Create project pitch to summarize and present to C- / VP for sponsorship (tag teamed by program & project manager)
      • Fill out this Project Pitch worksheet
      • Use Project Pitch Deck Template
      • Raise necessary resources
      • Gain Sponsor Buy-in

    5. Fill out the Stakeholder's Map and determine interactions/communications with them
    6. Define expected project benefits
      • Keep this centered around the benefits/outcomes the project is trying to achieve... then layer on specs
    7. Get stakeholders & sponsor agreement on project charter and expected benefits
    8. Recruit a team based on required skills 
      • Know team members really well and plan how their involvement in the project impacts their career
    9. As a team - map out the entire project including timeline, milestones, resources & DRI [Project Blueprint Document]
    10. Identify risk and form gameplan to mitigate - [Risk Assessment Document]
    11. Key stakeholder sign off on the project - (required before moving on)
    Program Manager Role:
    • Analyse and clarify requirements to translate them into key project deliverables
    • Determine most impactful project deliverables
    • Recognize the knowledge and skills required from the project team (and specifically project managers)
    • Understand project best practices and promote organization standards

    BUILDING v1.0:

    Project Manager Role:

    1. Project team develops the first iteration of the project
    2. Weekly scrums - project team / key stakeholders
    3. Monthly Sponsor update meetings (project and program manager)
    4. Develop high level project page on Wiki with steps and status
    5. Internal marketing for the project
    6. Develop playbooks for other teams to use
    7. Team Training
    8. Setup tracking and research
      1. Tracking on the OMTM and leading indicators in relations to the project
      2. User research to continue to identify challenges, friction and what to build in iteration phase
    9. Stakeholder sign off before launch
    10. Post launch steps

      Program Manager Role:
    • Act as the project sponsor, including delegate and empower, mentor and coach project managers
    • Maintain monitoring and reporting at the program level (typically milestones and key deliverables) without dwelling in at project level
    • Manage program level "aggregated" risks (risks that affect more than one project)
    • Facilitate conflict resolution between team members, stakeholders and sponsors
    • Lead regular project reviews and final project v1.0 reflection and learnings


    We use the lean iteration cycle for on-going improvements.

    User Driven - Instead of our team trying to guess/decide what to build next, the user will "tell" us through data collected in continuous user research (qualitative, quantitative & observational). In our iterations we should continue to alway be taking the empathetic approach to solving for the user.


    The Iteration Cycle [lean methodology]

    Project Manager's Role:
    The iteration cycle should be run and managed by the project manager / DRI, work with the project team on implementation and coordinate with program manager to sync

    1. Plan:
      • Chose a metric to focus on moving:
               -  Quantitative Review: Review leading indicators to identify opportunity areas to focus on. Generally speaking this will be the pieces of the process that are causing the most friction, producing the lowest value to user or solve a handful of other challenges
      • Talk to the user to identify challenges related to that metric:
               -  Qualitative Review: Based on areas of opportunity, perform qualitative research to identify user challenges. The type of research depends on question being answered. Examples include: user interviews, surveys, single question responses, user testing, etc.
      • Based on research, have the team collectively brainstorms how to make improvements based on research
             -  You can also hold a "idea night" and invite the entire department. - [Idea Night Planner]

    2. Build:
      • Develop the Iteration Gameplan based on your purposed improvements
      • Determine MVT to run for the proposed update.
      • Map out experimental design - [Experimental Design Planner]
      • Determine minimum viable audience (MVA)
      • Build minimum viable "product" (MVP) to run your experiment on
      • After running the experiment, review results
      • Document and publish what you learned

    3. Measure / Learn:
      • Experiment and Hypothesis review
      • Documentation around the experiment and what you learned about the user
      • Recommendations to any cross-departmental teams
    4. Deploy Updates:
      1. Major Updates:
        • Determine an appropriate "major" update pulse
        • Ex: Start with monthly updates and slowly transition to quarterly
        • Larger updates that required additional training or big process updates should be grouped and fall into a regular release cycle
        • Stakeholder sign-off on "major updates"

      2. "Minor" updates
        • that don't require heavy education, process, etc. changes should be deployed right away
        • Can be done in managers 1:1 or by email
      3. Plan and create any necessary tool / training / playbook updates

    Other Tasks Happening in this Phase:

    Project Internal Marketing

    • To keep team, stakeholders, sponsor and company interested and excited
    • Wiki, company update meetings, etc.
    • Should be a focus of project manager with support from program manager
    Program Manager Role:
    • Continuously assess and put action plan for mitigating risk and uncertainty
    • Keep project's iterations sync'ed with overall program focus
    • Work with the project manager to manage iteration process
    • Push for team member's continued involvement and impact on their careers
    • Pace and prioritize multiple projects and value delivery
    • Continuous stakeholder and sponsor management (see cycle below)
    • Raise any necessary resources needed for iterations

    Stakeholder Management Cycle

    As the program and individual projects are iterating and evolving, the program manager needs to be continuously running through the Stakeholder Management cycle to ensure everyone is onboard. 

    The speed and pace of the stakeholder management cycle will depend on the speed and pace of the projects and program.



    Program Driving Value Through Multiple Projects:


    The goal of a program is to leverage multiple projects to drive business value. Each project should be focused at one specific key indicator or the OMTM. 



    As projects mature and progress, the Program Manager must continuously evaluate their contribution to the overall program and business value output. 

    Through this evaluation, they can determine which projects to grow, which ones to adapt or overhaul and which ones to kill. 



    1. Regular meetings with project managers
    2. Keeping a pulse on changing / updated strategic objectives and performing a program evaluation based on the changes
    3. Regular reporting and strategy meetings with stakeholders - Program Management Dashboard - (scorecard tab)
    4. Overhaul or Kill a Project or Program - There will come a time when a project has run it's course and will need to be overhauled or killed completely to meet a new strategic objective. It's up to the program manager to determine when is the right time to overhaul or kill a particular project. 
      • If Kill - Program manager will create a smooth transition plan
      • If Overhaul - The program manager will start the process over as if it as if it were a brand new, clean slate program. Then develop a strategy for a successful transition between programs.
    Program Manager Role:
    • Facilitate program level reviews with key stakeholders
    • Exercise both "baseline" evaluation and "opportunity" evaluation
    • Continue to further define program objectives and expected benefits
    • Clarify and adapt roles of project managers and project teams
    • Manage on-going program risks
    • Executive reporting and additional resource requests





    v1.0 - Notebook Entry Last Updated 11/11/2015. 
    Gray Text = Notes are a work in progress (subscribe and check back for updates).

    Let Us Know What You Thought about this Post.

    Put your Comment Below.

    You may also like: