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When Does Project Management Become Programme Management?

The difference between project management and programme management is usually well understood, but when do you know if you are ready to move from one to the other? Here’s a quick rundown of the skills you’ll need to move into this rapidly expanding field.

Is There A Difference?

The short answer is yes. It may seem that a programme manager is just a project manager running multiple projects – and many project managers do this anyway. The difference lies in their focus and how they view projects.

The project manager focuses on the micro-activities, sorting out project issues on a granular level to deliver the expected outcomes on time and to budget. The programme manager is more focussed on the macro level, on the strategic outcomes of the programme and ensuring that they are delivered. They will also be looking at the business strategy and how the programme aligns to the business’ strategic goals, such as how expanding one airport terminal will support the airport’s plan for growth in the future. This may mean navigating any politics between projects and potentially negotiating with different parties involved in the programme.

So, if you have been working with multiple stakeholders across multiple projects and gaining their cooperation to successfully deliver your projects, or proposing changes to better achieve strategic goals, then programme management might make sense as your next career move.

Are the Skills the Same?

What makes you a good project manager are very similar skills for a programme manager, but at a higher level. The project and people management skills you develop as a project manager are still required by a programme manager – you will still need to motivate others and use project monitoring systems. And delivering multiple tasks and projects to tight deadlines is still a core aspect of the job.

But instead of focussing on just delivering on time and to budget within the systems already in place, you need to have the analytical skills to assess the business value of projects and develop the business case, driving the project through feasibility into delivery. You will also need to identify options, best practices and opportunities to improve service delivery and programme efficiency. That may mean developing new processes to ensure projects are delivered more quickly or proposing new project controls.

If you are always identifying opportunities for improvement or suggesting new projects that will deliver business benefits, it’s time to consider taking the plunge into programme management.

What Opportunities Are Available?

Project management has become a huge field, with most – if not all – projects requiring a project manager. Compare this to just 15 years ago where the principal engineer would often lead the projects they had designed, and you can get a sense of how far project management has progressed.

With the increasing use of frameworks, longer project funding cycles, and large megaprojects often dominating the tender lists, programme management has also taken off. Which is why we are in search of skilled programme managers and directors for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, to support their plan for growth. If you are a project or programme manager looking for the next step in your career, please get in touch for an informal discussion about these roles.

About the Author

Steve Thomas
Construction Recruitment Director, UK & Canada
I am responsible for the Maxim Recruitment office in the UK where our team of recruitment consultants specialise in the recruitment of quantity surveyors, commercial managers, delay, dispute and claims consultants for civil engineering and building contractors and specialist construction consultancies.  I am also responsible for growing our recruitment operation in Canada and the USA where we are increasingly busy.  I have over 20 years’ experience in construction recruitment and enjoy working on both contingency and search/headhunting assignments for our repeat clients.
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Email: steve@maximrecruitment.com

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