Program Management: One of the Most Misused Terms in Business


The terms Program, Program Management Office (PMO), and Program Manager are very popular these days and, yet, are one of the most misunderstood and misused terms in business. I am going to give you a sample of how I have seen and heard these terms used.

For many, a Program means a big complex project that is mission critical or has high visibility for any number of reasons and therefore, it needs to be managed by a Program Manager rather than a Project Manager. For others, a Program is a specific, temporary or cyclical function in an organization. Meanwhile, for some, a PMO is simply an office that acts as a coordinator to gather information about a set of projects and funnels the information to more senior managers. While for others, a PMO is a centralized body for a series of related projects that ensure coordination between them, allowing consolidation of reporting, and resource sharing. So – which one is it?

As a certified PMP, Project Management Professional, I have been chuckling, and sometimes grimacing, at this mishmash phenomenon for almost 10 years. In that period, I have watched many professional project and program managers shake their heads or get irate at the ways in which these terms have been used. I think the blame lies, at least partially, with those of us who are professionals in this arena. The Program Management industry has numerous seminars, conferences, and workshops every year. Very few of the ones I have attended break down the differences between project management and program management well. Even fewer explain the role of PMOs in clear and simple terms. Early in my career, I attended a three-day seminar on managing PMOs and projects and found myself scratching my head when loaded down with new acronyms, techniques, and processes. Since then, I invested time to understand the differences and learned the best ways to set-up and manage PMOs.

Where do you fall in this debate? I will breakdown these concepts into simple terms that have served me well in my upcoming blogs. I look forward to turning some head scratching into head nodding.