TO MANY professionals worldwide, programme management is something new.

But to many others, especially in the United States and United Kingdom, programme management is a proven discipline with a distinct skill set that dates back more than five decades.

In the 1950s, the US Department of Defense began using best practices in programme management to oversee major weapons systems development and acquisitions initiatives.

Grounded firmly in the government, the discipline has evolved into the private sector. Businesses have identified it as an effective way to manage ongoing, mission-critical initiatives and organisational change successfully.

Programme management

Programme management focuses on achieving successful results by paying attention to the overall business benefits through a focus on benefits management.

These benefits will only be realised by keeping a sharp eye on the many complex interdependencies that exist between component projects, and not necessarily on any one project.

Note the distinction from project management, which operates largely within the confines of a clear beginning and end.

Consider this: Your company has dozens of projects running concurrently. Each project has a separate budget, scope and timeline - and, more importantly, a discernable start and end date.

However, don't all of those projects exist under the same corporate umbrella?

Furthermore, don't individual objectives across certain subsets of these projects align to broader organisational initiatives - initiatives that may not realistically have a defined end, but rather the required delivery of a set of business benefits?

If the answer is yes, then you and your organisation are in the business of managing programmes.

Project success is measured against deadlines and budgets. As important as time and money are to everyone, programme success is measured against the overall benefits achieved given the time and costs involved.

And, because programmes are often ongoing initiatives, one must take into account issues such as maintenance, employee training, product support and on-going organisational change.

More recently, my company began the long, slow implementation of SAP - software applications that accelerate business innovation for customers.

On the surface, one could look at this as just a massive software implementation project. But if ever there was an initiative that could be deemed as a programme, SAP is it.

To bring SAP on board, we had to reconceive many facets of our organisation from the ground up.

For instance, we had to re-engineer many of our processes, including new billing and accounts receivable, roll out the software on our various servers around the world and train staff on SAP.

Each of these important activities represents a project, but, all together, they equal my company's SAP implementation programme.

Credentials

Last year, the Project Management Institute (PMI) began offering its first credential recognising the discipline of programme management, the Programme Management Professional (PgMPSM).

This new credential goes a long way towards validating programme management and standardising the unique skill sets required to manage programmes successfully.

I have organised these skills into nine primary competency areas, which are represented on the PgMPSM certification exam:

1
Big-picture thinking and the ability to sell the vision

A programme manager must be able to look beyond a single project and see how it fits into larger organisational objectives. And, more importantly, he must be able to sell his vision to colleagues at all levels.

2
Superior analytical skills

The ability to analyse disparate strands of information and identify trends and change drivers is essential when dealing with many interrelated projects.

3
Leadership and teambuilding

As budgets and scopes become more aggressive and responsibilities increase, a programme manager's team will grow exponentially. Being able to build and lead a team and collaborate with others is an absolute requirement.

4
Communication

From day one, a programme manager is required to communicate - both written and verbally - with a wide range of individuals, from executives and governance boards to colleagues and stakeholders.

5
Influencing and negotiating

Politics and hierarchies are inevitable in business. Being able to navigate an organisation's political scene, negotiate effectively and influence sponsors will help you guide your programmes to success.

6
Conflict resolution

With politics and hierarchies comes conflict, especially as the stakes increase. Being able to face conflict directly and solve problems will help you diffuse potential problems early.

7
Stakeholder management

By keeping your stakeholders and their expectations in check, and forging a collaborative relationship with each of them, you will create a mutually beneficial harmony from the start.

8
Planning and resource management

As a programme manager, you must be able to develop a variety of plans - risk, cost and contingency, to name a few - and align those with the organisational objectives the programme is designed to meet.

9
Mastery of tools and techniques

There are many proven tools and techniques available from both project and programme management - from milestone planning and statistical quality control to scenario analysis and brainstorming. My advice: Learn them all!

So, even if programme management is just making its way into your business lexicon, now is the perfect time to introduce it to your organisation - and into your personal career development plan.

The benefits will be seen in both the short and long term, for you and your organisation's programmes.