Running a complex and demanding transformation programme can be a daunting experience. Before you even start you need to consider the politics, barriers and challenges you will face. However, it’s also important to remember the positive side. The ability to work with new and very different people. The chance to learn new things and develop your range of skills.
Follow our top tips below and you’ll be off to a great start as a Programme Manager.
Practice agility. Take an agile approach to work. Whilst your strategy might not change you will need to ‘pivot’ from time to time. You’ll need to adapt to changing situations and circumstances. It might be stakeholder change, fluid budgets or changing priorities. If you don’t stay agile and adapt the programme will run into trouble.
Have your contact book with you everywhere you go. Stakeholder mapping isn’t a one-off set activity. Have your mental or written map with you everywhere you go. Remember names and have photos to hand. Doing this will help you link people quickly, understand needs, political alliances and beneficial connection opportunities.
Keep your promises, as best you can. If you say you’ll circulate minutes in one hour make sure you do. In many cases making such a promises is risky and inadvisable, but if you do stick to it. Not meeting that promise will start to sow doubt into the minds of those involved in the programme. People may start to believe things are slipping.
Watch your language. Hopefully you don’t swear in your workplace but be sure to monitor the way you speak to people. Remember when speaking to an international audience that a fast, limited breathing approach will only lose people’s attention. Also avoid colloquial words and sayings that only you and your friends down the pub would understand.
Be accepting of criticism. Grow a thick skin and be prepared to take criticism on board. Always react positively and ask regularly for feedback. It’s all part of the learning curve. Get used to leaving a room thinking ‘I should have known that’ or ‘I should have seen that coming.’ It will prepare you well for the future.
Stay ahead of your programme team. Spend time looking to the horizon and scenario planning. Anticipate activities that others are not yet planning or even thinking about. Chase up actions and ensure you’re not left saying ‘I’m not sure about the progress on that.’
Being a worrier is okay. Some of the best programme managers adopt the mantra ‘plan for the worst, hope for the best’.
Be a detail person. Make sure your grammar and spelling makes sense. Ensure agendas have the right date and time. Double check everything that leaves your programme office. First impressions count.
Be sensitive to politics but not shy to act. Take into account political opinions, alliances and factions. Not everyone will be a programme supporter. Appreciate other people’s views but be prepared to close issues democratically and with sensitivity once you need to.
Be technical. Know how to use WebEx, set up a conference call, use an interactive wall. Don’t be the programme manager looking for a phone number to facilities once a meeting has already started.
Challenge assumptions. Your team is full of experts but don’t be afraid to play Devil’s advocate. You need to be able to explain decisions made if the person who made them is not around. Ensure your programme has as few ‘assumptions’ as possible.
Be transparent. Don’t be scared to surface difficult issues. Get people together in a room to negotiate and debate. Don’t let others dictate how decisions are ‘collaboratively’ made.
And finally: remember your primary job is as a facilitator. You might be an expert but so are others. Listen, connect and facilitate collaborative decisions.
Paul Roberts, Strategy Activist