7 Progressive Strategies for Finding a Great Program Manager

Ray Kroc was the guy who took McDonald’s from its early faltering days to 7,500 outlets by the time he died. He’s credited with saying, “You’re only as good as the people you hire.” When recruiting a program manager, or indeed any position, remember how important to get the best people you can.

Looking for the perfect program manager? We’ve collected seven simple recruiting strategies for achieving success.

What’s a Program?

The terms program manager and project manager are sometimes used interchangeably. There are some important differences.

Projects are one-off and temporary. They usually have a set of constraints such as cost, time and resources. They have an end date and some defined outcomes or deliverables.

Programs are made up of projects. These are likely to be interconnected or dependent on each other. The projects build together to deliver a larger organizational objective.

A program is likely to be orientated around strategic aims rather than project objectives or deliverables.

What’s a Program Manager?

A program manager defines and oversees a number of projects. They may provide integration for sub-projects and they would certainly promote collaboration where projects are interdependent.

The aim of a program manager is to provide the vision and strategy for the overall program. They facilitating the delivery of the projects that make up the whole program. They provide the focus that ensures the delivery of the organizational aims.

The role may include recruiting teams and performance management of projects and their project managers. They ensure integration with business as usual and the wider business organization.

What are the Skills Required of a Program Manager?

Of course, a program manager must be a great planner, passionate about quality and an effective leader and communicator. These skills are also vital for effective project management. The key skill for a program manager is the ability to integrate the activity of their team and the rest of the organization in order to achieve strategic change.

It’s this strategic dimension that’s important. It turns the leadership skills of a project manager, delivering a project objective into program¬†management that changes the organization.

So, how do you find a great program manager?

1. Start with the End in Mind

When Stephen Covey, launched his best-selling self-help book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” he created a quotable guide for life, not just business. One of the best pieces of advice was about where one should start.

Beginning with the end seems counter-intuitive but there’s a powerful lesson in this memorable idea. be clear about what you want to achieve and you have a chance at least of achieving it.

Define what you want your program manager to achieve for your business. Starting with this allows you to define the criteria for selecting the right person for your business. It can lead to identifying both positive and contra-indications, too.

Define the knowledge, skills, and experience you need. Be clear about your expectations and can you use these for recruitment advertisements, recruitment consultant briefing, and searches. You can also use them for interviewing and assessment of candidates.

2. Plan Well Ahead

The enemy of effective recruitment is time. Rushing to recruit and short time scales puts pressure on you to be quick rather than effective. Your aim should be quality and that takes time.

Identify your program manager requirements early and start your search as early as possible. Your first thought might be recruitment but consider the benefits of a program management consultancy. With this service, you get tried and tested program managers who can hit the ground running.

It’s hardly surprising that the really good program managers are likely to be busy. Organizations like to cling on to good people and good program managers are rare. This means they are likely to be employed on long notice periods and so a consultancy makes sense.

3. Select Business Savvy People

A very experienced project manager may be able to make the step up to the program manager level. What should you look for to decide if they have what it takes?

Include some assessment of the candidate’s business acumen. It’s the business integration and strategic capability that are differentiators between good project managers and good program managers.

Discuss their understanding of the business context. Do they understand the bigger picture? Will they be able to negotiate, collaborate and relate to professionals from across the business?

4. Seek Out Passion

Leading a complex mix of projects and implementing organizational change can get tough. The best program managers can handle the heat and still be enthusiastic about making the necessary progress. Look for passionate people you are resilient, enthusiastic and determined even under pressure.

It’s not enough to be passionate. A program manager must be able to communicate that passion. Their enthusiasm must be infectious.

5. Track Record of Leadership

A program manager must be a great leader of people. Check out whether they have a track record for leadership. Seek out evidence of a reputation as an effective leader and ask for references.

No matter what people say about how they would do the job in the future, past performance is the most reliable indication of their future performance. Can they talk credibly about their record? Do they exhibit the traits of an effective leader?

6. Great Fit

Your organization is unique. It has its own character, traditions, expectations, and behaviors. Fitting in with this organizational culture is vital for a new program manager.

If your culture is tough and growth driven than the program manager needs to be able to operate in that culture. If it’s a people-first, friendly and fun place then the program manager must be a people person. Look for consulting firms that operate in a range of clients.

7. Breadth

Some project managers tend to have limited wider organizational contact. Having most of their interactions within their own field means they don’t get the experience of communicating a vision and integration with the wider business. For example, managers with an IT background may find their leadership skills challenged outside the IT context.

The challenge for many project managers making the step into program management is that it exposes them to the wider organization. This could be for the first time. Look for experience of breadth.

Get It Right

Whether it’s a mission-critical program or a number of troubling change projects getting the right leadership is crucial. Get great results with the right program manager.

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