Skill Requirements for Program Managers

Programs are often complex and multifaceted. Managing these programs represents a challenge requiring skills in team building, leadership, conflict resolution, technical expertise, planning, organization, entrepreneurship, administration, management support, and the allocation of resources. This section examines these skills relative to program management effectiveness. A key factor to good program performance is the program manager's ability to integrate personnel from many disciplines into an effective work team.

To get results, the program manager must relate to (1) the people to be managed, (2) the task to be done, (3) the tools available, (4) the organizational structure, and (5) the organizational environment, including the customer community.

All work factors are interrelated and operate under the limited control of the program manager. With an understanding of the interaction of corporate organization and behavior elements, the manager can build an environment conducive to the working team's needs. The internal and external forces that im-

pinge on the organization of the project must be reconciled to mutual goals. Thus the program manager must be both socially and technically aware to understand how the organization functions and how these functions will affect the program organization of the particular job to be done. In addition, the program manager must understand the culture and value system of the organization he is working with. Research and experience show that effective program management performance is directly related to the level of proficiency at which these skills are mastered.

Ten specific skills are identified (in no particular order) and discussed in this section:

• Team building

• Leadership

• Conflict resolution

• Technical expertise

• Organization

• Entrepreneurship

• Administration

• Management support

• Resource allocation

It is important that the personal management traits underlying these skills operate to form a homogeneous management style. The right mixture of skill levels depends on the project task, the techniques employed, the people assigned, and the organizational structure. To be effective, program managers must consider all facets of getting the job done. Their management style must facilitate the integration of multidisciplinary program resources for synergistic operation. The days of the manager who gets by with technical expertise alone or pure administrative skills are gone.

Team-Building Skills

Building the program team is one of the prime responsibilities of the program manager. Team building involves a whole spectrum of management skills required to identify, commit, and integrate the various task groups from the traditional functional organization into a single program management system.

To be effective, the program manager must provide an atmosphere conducive to teamwork. He must nurture a climate with the following characteristics:

• Team members committed to the program

• Good interpersonal relations and team spirit

• The necessary expertise and resources

• Clearly defined goals and program objectives

• Involved and supportive top management

• Good program leadership

• Open communication among team members and support organizations

• A low degree of detrimental interpersonal and intergroup conflict

Three major considerations are involved in all of the above factors aimed toward integration of people from many disciplines into an effective team: (1) effective communications, (2) sincere interest in the professional growth of team members, and (3) commitment to the project.

Leadership Skills

An absolutely essential prerequisite for program success is the program manager's ability to lead the team within a relatively unstructured environment. It involves dealing effectively with managers and supporting personnel across functional lines with little or no formal authority. It also involves information processing skills, the ability to collect and filter relevant data valid for decision making in a dynamic environment. It involves the ability to integrate individual demands, requirements, and limitations into decisions that benefit overall project performance. It further involves the program manager's ability to resolve intergroup conflicts, an important factor in overall program performance.

Perhaps more than in any other position below the general manager's level, quality leadership depends heavily on the program manager's personal experience and credibility within the organization. An effective management style might be characterized this way:

• Clear project leadership and direction

• Assistance in problem solving

• Facilitating the integration of new members into the team

• Ability to handle interpersonal conflict

• Facilitating group decisions

• Capability to plan and elicit commitments

• Ability to communicate clearly

• Presentation of the team to higher management

• Ability to balance technical solutions against economic and human factors The personal traits desirable and supportive of the above skills are:

Project management experience

• Flexibility and change orientation

• Innovative thinking

• Initiative and enthusiasm

Charisma and persuasiveness

Organization and discipline

Conflict Resolution Skills

Conflict is fundamental to complex task management. It is often determined by the interplay of the program organization and the larger host organization and its multifunctional components. Understanding the determinants of conflicts is important to the program manager's ability to deal with conflicts effectively. When conflict becomes dysfunctional, it often results in poor program decision making, lengthy delays over issues, and a disruption of the team's efforts, all negative influences to program performance. However, conflict can be beneficial when it produces involvement and new information and enhances the competitive spirit.

A number of suggestions have been derived from various research studies aimed at increasing the program manager's ability to resolve conflict and thus improve overall program performance. Program managers must:

• Understand interaction of the organizational and behavioral elements in order to build an environment conducive to their team's motivational needs. This will enhance active participation and minimize unproductive conflict.

• Communicate effectively with all organizational levels regarding both project objectives and decisions. Regularly scheduled status review meetings can be an important communication vehicle.

• Recognize the determinants of conflict and their timing in the project life cycle. Effective project planning, contingency planning, securing of commitments, and involving top management can help to avoid or minimize many conflicts before they impede project performance.

The value of the conflict produced depends on the ability of the program manager to promote beneficial conflict while minimizing its potential hazardous consequences. The accomplished manager needs a "sixth sense" to indicate when conflict is desirable, what kind of conflict will be useful, and how much conflict is optimal for a given situation. In the final analysis, he has the sole responsibility for his program and how conflict will contribute to its success or failure.

Technical Skills

The program manager rarely has all the technical, administrative, and marketing expertise needed to direct the program single-handedly. Nor is it necessary or desirable. It is essential, however, for the program manager to understand the technology, the markets, and the environment of the business to participate effectively in the search for integrated solutions and technological innovations. More important, without this understanding, the integrated consequences of local decisions on the total program, the potential growth ramifications, and relationships to other business opportunities cannot be foreseen by the manager. Further technical expertise is necessary to evaluate technical concepts and solutions, to communicate effectively in technical terms with the project team, and to assess risks and make trade-offs between cost, schedule, and technical issues. This is why in complex problem-solving situations so many project managers must have an engineering background.

Taken together, technical expertise is important to the successful management of engineering projects. It is composed of an understanding of the:

• Technology involved

• Engineering tools and techniques employed

• Specific markets, their customers, and requirements

• Product applications

• Technological trends and evolutions

• Relationship among supporting technologies

• People who are part of the technical community

The technical expertise required for effective management of engineering programs is normally developed through progressive growth in engineering or supportive project assignments in a specific technology area. Frequently, the project begins with an exploratory phase leading into a proposal. This is normally an excellent testing ground for the future program manager. It also allows top management to judge the new candidate's capacity for managing the technological innovations and integration of solutions needed for success.

Planning Skills

Planning skills are helpful for any undertaking; they are absolutely essential, however, for the successful management of large complex programs. The project plan is the road map that defines how to get from the start to the final results.

Program planning is an ongoing activity at all organizational levels. However, the preparation of a project summary plan, prior to project start, is the responsibility of the program manager. Effective project planning requires particular skills far beyond writing a document with schedules and budgets. It requires communication and information processing skills to define the actual resource requirements and administrative support necessary. It requires the ability to negotiate the necessary resources and commitments from key personnel in various support organizations with little or no formal authority, including the definition of measurable milestones.

Effective planning requires skills in the areas of:

• Information processing

• Communication

• Resource negotiations

• Securing commitments

• Incremental and modular planning

• Assuring measurable milestones

• Facilitating top management involvement

In addition, the program manager must assure that the plan remains a viable document. Changes in project scope and depth are inevitable. The plan should reflect necessary changes through formal revisions and should be the guiding doc-

ument throughout the life cycle of the program. Nothing is more useless than an obsolete or irrelevant plan.

Finally, program managers need to be aware that planning can be overdone. If not controlled, planning can become an end in itself and a poor substitute for innovative work. Individuals retreat to the utopia of no responsibility where innovative actions cannot be taken ''because it is not in the plan." It is the responsibility of the program manager to build flexibility into the plan and police it against such misuse.

Organizational Skills

The program manager must be a social architect, that is, he must understand how the organization works and how to work with the organization. Organizational skills are particularly important during project formation and startup when the program manager establishes the program organization by integrating people from many different disciplines into an effective work team. It requires far more than simply constructing a project organization chart. At a minimum, it requires defining the reporting relationships, responsibilities, lines of control, and information needs. Supporting skills in the area of planning, communication, and conflict resolution are particularly helpful. A good program plan and a task matrix are useful organizational tools. In addition, the organizational effort is facilitated by clearly defined program objectives, open communication channels, good program leadership, and senior management support.

Enterpreneurial Skills

The program manager also needs a general management perspective. For example, economic considerations are one important area that normally affects the organization's financial performance. However, objectives often are much broader than profits. Customer satisfaction, future growth, cultivation of related market activities, and minimum organizational disruptions of other programs might be equally important goals. The effective program manager is concerned with all these issues.

Entrepreneurial skills are developed through actual experience. However, formal MBA-type training, special seminars, and cross-functional training programs can help to develop the entrepreneurial skills needed by program managers.

Administrative Skills

Administrative skills are essential. The program manager must be experienced in planning, staffing, budgeting, scheduling, and other control techniques. In dealing with technical personnel, the problem is seldom to make people understand administrative techniques such as budgeting and scheduling, but to impress on them that costs and schedules are just as important as elegant technical solutions.

Particularly on larger programs, managers rarely have all the administrative skills required. While it is important that program managers understand the company's operating procedures and available tools, it is often necessary for the pro gram manager to free himself from administrative details regardless of his ability to handle them. He has to delegate considerable administrative tasks to support groups or hire a project administrator.

Some helpful tools for the manager in the administration of his program include: (1) the meeting, (2) the report, (3) the review, and (4) budget and schedule controls. Program managers must be thoroughly familiar with these available tools and know how to use them effectively.

Management Support Building Skills

The program manager is surrounded by a myriad of organizations that either support him or control his activities. An understanding of these interfaces is important to program managers as it enhances their ability to build favorable relationships with senior management. Management support is often an absolute necessity for dealing effectively with interface groups. Project organizations are shared-power systems with personnel of many diverse interests and "ways of doing things." These power systems have a tendency toward imbalance. Only a strong leader backed by senior management can prevent the development of unfavorable biases.

Four key variables influence the project manager's ability to create favorable relationships with senior management: (1) his ongoing credibility, (2) the visibility of his program, (3) the priority of his program relative to other organizational undertakings, and (4) his own accessibility. All these factors are interrelated and can be developed by the individual manager. Furthermore, senior management can aid such development significantly.

Resource Allocation Skills

A program organization has many bosses. Functional lines often shield support organizations from direct financial control by the project office. Once a task has been authorized, it is often impossible to control the personnel assignments, priorities, and indirect manpower costs. In addition, profit accountability is difficult owing to the interdependencies of various support departments and the often changing work scope and contents.

Effective and detailed program planning may facilitate commitment and reinforce control. Part of the plan is the "Statement of Work," which establishes a basis for resource allocation. It is also important to work out specific agreements with all key contributors and their superiors on the tasks to be performed and the associated budgets and schedules. Measurable milestones are not only important for hardware components, but also for the "invisible" program components such as systems and software tasks. Ideally, these commitments on specs, schedules, and budgets should be established through involvement by key personnel in the early phases of project formation, such as the proposal phase. This is the time when requirements are still flexible, and trade-offs among performance, schedule, and budget parameters are possible. Further, this is normally the time when the competitive spirit among potential contributors is highest, often leading to a more cohesive and challenging work plan.

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