How much do project program managers earn

8 tips for successful program management (2020 update)

+++ Program management introduction +++ This is how you define the project structure, processes and interfaces correctly +++

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Maintaining an overview of complex programs with numerous sub-projects is a real mammoth task. Do you feel the same way? Then you probably need a powerful program management system.

In this article, you will find a number of recommendations that can be useful on your path to successful program management. This includes:

  1. Set up the Program Management Office
  2. Define processes for control
  3. Communicate specialties of the program
  4. Define a suitable project structure
  5. Define interfaces between the projects
  6. Obtain a suitable program management tool
  7. Automate synchronization of interfaces
  8. Establish an early warning system

But before we get into the details, let's first define important terms in program management. This prevents misunderstandings.

Here we go.

What is program management?

Definition: Program management summarizes several projects that are interdependent. In this case, all projects serve to achieve an overarching goal. So, by our definition, a program is, in short, a main project with many sub-projects.

According to the PMI standard, program management includes, among other things

  • Definition of interfaces
  • Coordination of schedules
  • Coordination of resources
  • Comprehensive risk management
  • Joint change management

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Differentiation from multi-project management

In contrast, the term multi-project management stands for projects of an organizational unit that are carried out at the same time (e.g. IT projects that are independent of one another).

Note:There are no globally standardized definitions for program management and multi-project management. Outside of the German-speaking area, the term multi-project management is mostly covered by the terms program management and project portfolio management (which unfortunately can lead to confusion in the German-speaking area).

Differentiation from project portfolio management

And another distinction: in German-speaking countries, project portfolio management is usually the strategic authority overriding the programs and projects.

Differentiation between project portfolio, multi-project and program management

What does a program manager do?

The program manager / program director is the Responsible for a program, which consists of several sub-projects. Often he is that too Head of a project office or Program Management Office (PgrO). Possible program manager tasks are, with the support of his team:

  • Define programs to implement strategic goals
  • Initiate projects for the programs
  • Assessment of projects that have been applied for
  • Approval, postponement or rejection of project applications
  • Monitoring of projects from the perspective of the client
  • Cross-project information system
  • Project marketing
  • Quality management

All right? After these delimitations, we now come to the eight most important tips for successful program management.

Tip 1: Establish a Program Management Office

Programs require intensive control. Due to the complexity and scope, this can usually only be done with the support of a centrally responsible body: the Program Management Office (in German: Program Office).

The Program Management Office (PgrO) usually consists of several people. A program manager cannot usually meet the requirements alone.

The Duties of a program management office can be:

  • Define and disseminate the specialties of the respective program
  • Training of the project manager specifically for the respective program
  • Support the project manager in managing the projects
  • Requesting all actions and data on the status appointments
  • Ensuring the data quality from the projects
  • Preparation of reports for various committees
  • Elaboration of scenarios in problem cases
  • Preparing and holding steering meetings

Integration of the program management office / program office in the processes

Differentiation from the PMO: The Program Management Office (PgrO) must not be confused with the Project Management Office (PMO). The PMO acts as the central control point for project management in the entire company or in areas (e.g. IT-PMO). Possible activities are for example: development of project standards, project monitoring, project support, training / coaching, quality assurance up to participation in strategic portfolio decisions.

Tip 2: Define the control processes

First, make sure that the individual project management is working properly in your company. Only then can the program work.

To control an extensive program, you must be able to process a great deal of information from the projects at the same time. Hence the Preparation of steering meetings is very time-consuming: You need more lead time and everything has to be better organized than with "regular" projects.

Define a measure for thiswith which you can ensure the dates of the control meetings. All information must come together in the required quality at the right time.

You should choose the cycle sensibly depending on the total running time of the program. This is the only way to identify deviations at an early stage and to quickly derive necessary decisions at the interfaces for the success of the program.

Exemplary cycle for preparing control meetings by participating roles

Tip 3: Point out the specialties of the program

Perhaps you already have a project management office (PMO). This is usually responsible for standards in project management and the training of project managers (see box above).

Suitable reading tip:How to properly introduce a PMO step by step.

A program, however, usually has its own specific handling. This is especially true when external contributors are involved. For the reason you have to special rules of the game are usually defined for the program. These probably differ here and there from the PMO's standards.

You should therefore ensure that all project managers are familiar with these rules of the program and adhere to them.

4. Define a suitable project structure

A suitable one is importantPlan structurefor every project. This must enable the time and content dependencies between the projects to be reproduced in the program. To do this, you define the important milestones in each project that will later be used to monitor the program.

Our tip: Do not forget to create a main project for higher-level control information with, for example, the most important milestones. That simplifies the control.

We also recommend creating a separate main project for the program. This program plan includes all higher-level control information. All interfaces or partial deliveries should come together and be controlled here.

In this way, you only have to open and edit a single project plan in the steering committee. This simplifies the overview and the handling.

Exemplary program structure of an IT program

Tip 5: Define the interfaces between the projects

On this basis, the steering committee regularly issues its specifications for the milestones at the interfaces. These are distributed in the respective projects ("top-down") And the project managers then have to implement these specifications.

Conversely, the current dates of the milestones for the specifications must be regularly collected from the projects ("bottom-up“).

From the temporal differences between target and actual dates there is a need for central control at the interfaces.

Tip 6: Obtain a powerful program management tool

You will only be able to carry out complex programs with the support of a powerful multi-project / program management tool. There are now many suitable products on the market that have become more and more professional over the past few years.

For program management, we recommend a software solution that enables you to control the “top-down” and “bottom-up” of the projects, as described above. Here it is particularly important how you can implement the links between the projects.

"Bottom-up" and "top-down" control between the program plan and individual project plans

It is unpleasant, for example, if your solution immediately displays all changes from linked activities when you open a project and you do not have the previous status for comparison. Then you may not know what has changed.

There is a nicer solution with which you The external milestones can also be displayed in your schedule at the push of a button. So you see your planning and the links at the same time. You can then easily adjust your planning on this basis.

Suitable video tip:Program management in product development and R&D

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Tip 7: automate the synchronization of the interfaces

If appointments are postponed in the projects, you save a lot of time through automatic synchronization with the program plan. In the best case, you open the program plan and immediately see the current status of each milestone next to the target.

If you have a lot of interfaces, like this

  • such a solution saves you a lot of time,
  • You can fully concentrate on controlling the program,
  • You don't waste time collecting current data, which can quickly become out of date.

A suitable integration middleware also makes it possible, for example, to combine different software tools from different sub-projects. This can be the case, for example, in large programs with many different suppliers, for example in the aerospace sector. For example, some can work with Primavera, while others may use Planisware or Microsoft Project Server / Project online.

TPG PSLink is a leading integration middleware that is also very important for automatic data exchange in program management

Suitable reading tip: Requirements for an optimal program management tool for IT support using the electronics industry as an example.

Tip 8: set up an early warning system

Ideally, implement the scheduling of the interfaces not only via the currently reported dates. Use a milestone trend analysis (MTA). This provides you with an early warning for the most important interfaces and deliveries if appointments are frequently postponed.

Our tip: In the MTA, use the specifications from the program plan as the key date for the important milestones from the projects. From this you can read the critical effects of time shifts even better.

An MTA with deadlines shows you when changes in time are really critical

To do this, download a free MTA for Microsoft Project from

More information for you
In many webinars, TPG The Project Group has put together important tips and information for decision-makers and users of project, portfolio and resource management. In addition, documents with arguments and decision-making aids are available for each topic.
> For free download

Suitable video tip:Handle large projects and programs with a consistent overall solution

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Your cookie settings block the display of videos from this website. You're welcome ⇒ click here and the cookie selection appears. Select at least the there marketing-Cookies off. Then the video will appear immediately. Many Thanks.


In this article you learned what program management means and how to differentiate the term from other terms such as multi-project management and project portfolio management.

Besides, you now have 8 tips for successful program management in the luggage:

    1. Establish inown program management office / program officewith specific tasks. This includes, for example, program communication, support for project managers, preparation of reports, etc.
    2. Control is the be-all and end-all. Make sure that theProcesses are defined and adhered to around individual project management and management meetings.
    3. Use your PMO to helpSpecial features of the programto communicate.
    4. Define onesuitable plan structure for each project and remember to create a separate main project for the program itself.
    5. Make sure you have a consistent"Top-down" and "bottom-up" communication, in which the specifications and current dates of the milestones can be passed on.
    6. Get onepowerful PM systemthat supports you in this. In this context, pay particular attention to being able to implement transparent links between the projects.
    7. Benefit from more efficiency and topicality by using theadjustmentindividual appointments with the program planautomate.
    8. Reacting in time can be crucial. Stay with thatMilestone trend analysisup to date, if appointments are postponed frequently.

Give us feedback!
What are your experiences in program management? Have we forgotten an important success factor? Did these tips help you? We are looking forward to your comments.

About the author:Johann Strasser, Dipl.-Ing., Has been a managing partner at TPG The Project Group since 2001. After several years of experience as a development engineer in the automotive and energy sector, Johann Strasser worked for ten years as a freelance trainer and consultant in the field of project management. During this time he also worked as a project manager for software projects in the construction industry and supported large buildings in the context of schedule and cost management. At TPG, his expertise flows into product development and advising international customers. He places a special focus on the topics of PMO, project portfolio, hybrid project management and resource management. He has been passing on his knowledge for many years in the form of lectures, seminars, articles and webinars.

More about Johann Strasser on LinkedIn or Xing.