As federal contractors, our daily work has led us to adapt a project management mentality. As the providers of tactical operations support for projects, it is sometimes difficult to step back and understand where our work fits within the larger, programmatic framework of the agencies we work for (i.e. their missions and goals). To address this, the latest PACE training provided Cohorts 7 and 8 with a look above project management and into program management.
As our trainer (and company CEO) Kendall Lott explained, “… projects produce outputs, but programs produce outcomes.” Outputs are tangibles—the widget that gets made, the business requirement that gets drafted. While outputs are an easy way to measure value, outcomes are different in that they are changes in condition—often involving systems—and bring key benefits to an organization. Since many of us are early in our careers, we are not yet at a place to influence programmatic functions; but understanding where the pieces fit together strengthens the analytical framework through which we approach our work.
One of the many added benefits of the PACE learning environment is that different cohorts sometimes receive training together, allowing us the ability to discuss and debrief on these topics and therefore challenge our own knowledge gaps. Personally, I found one of the more compelling takeaways from this high-level view of program management to be the idea that stakeholders aren’t just the people who champion the success of your program, but also those who champion its failure. This is not to say the latter group are bad people with nefarious intent, but rather program managers must always be aware that, in the world of federal agencies fighting over a small slice of the budget pie, every resource is precious. Hence, as a program manager, you should always look to align your program to the mission and goals of the agency at large to ensure that your invested stakeholders remain happy while simultaneously keeping detractors at bay.
Taking that idea from concept to reality, PACE Cohort 7’s Ryne Peterson’s key takeaway was that it is not only important to identify program stakeholders, but to also classify them across a matrix of ‘Interest’ and ‘Power’. It is critical to know how much a stakeholder cares about a program, and how much power he or she has to help or hinder the effort. Clearly mapping stakeholders allows for a more focused way to approach stakeholders that will ensure a program’s success.
Pivoting off this idea, PACE Cohort 7’s Patrick Hendrickson was interested in how we can use these tools to better understand a program’s process, and therefore communicate more strategically. To make yourself heard when speaking up the chain, you will be much more persuasive when you frame your ideas or concerns within the context of what that person cares most about in regards to this program.
Looking through the wider lens of program management, we can see that the outputs we produce are indeed important in themselves, but are all the more valuable when aligned to the greater programmatic agenda. It is clear that looking upward and outward will only serve to enhance our own professional development and future successes.