“The only thing that is constant is change” – Heraclitus (~500 BC)



In the current economy of intense competition, organizations are forced to change continuously to survive and thrive. Project management is already a widely accepted discipline for managing complex initiatives, and nearly all contemporary organizations have adopted some form of project management. As complexity, turbulence, scarcity of resources, and the need to be faster and more flexibility applying more pressure on today’s organizations, it is now the right time to consider adopting program management, a newer and emerging discipline that is catered for large change and to strategically align the programs within that change. But while many organizations understand this in theory, failure to effectively apply program management to strategic change is sadly common1. Organizations’ capabilities in program management are underdeveloped, and so strategic execution often fails to achieve its desired outcomes. Projects are managed as multi-projects, rather than integrated programs, and program management is still viewed as a temporary necessity. The imperative for program management is now, and program management should be applied from an enterprise perspective, as a set of interdependent organizational capabilities that enable agility in the face of change.


Program Management: Strategic Application

A program is defined as a set of related projects, sub-programs, or program activities managed and coordinated systematically to obtain financial and competitive benefits not achievable by managing them individually2. The oversight and strategic alignment involved in program management make it far larger and more complex an effort than project management. Projects, programs, portfolios, and their connectedness must be continually evaluated from a strategic perspective1. Their value propositions, performance measures and general relevance must repeatedly be assessed regarding their strategic contribution. Thus, program management is applied as a form of strategic implementation and execution; something that is deeply engrained in the organization, rather than an isolated effort.


Application as an Organizational Capability

The enterprise perspective of organizational project management views program management as an organizational competency in and of itself3. And the maturity of this capability is often benchmarked against that of competitors as an indication of success. However, it could also be argued that program management is an initiative or drive that develops various other capabilities within the organization. Reporting, governance, information systems, project management, organizational learning, benefits management and various policies, processes, methodologies and tools are inextricably linked to the broader capability of organizational project management4.


A real example of applying program management is establishing a new product division or department. A new department performs a unique set of activities, previously outsourced by the organization. Its establishment would constitute a program with many sub-parts, including the following:

  • the establishment of business processes and their connection with other organizational processes;
  • the creation of standard operating procedures and standards;
  • the implementation of a relevant, supporting information technology system;
  • working with internal and external regulatory bodies;
  • recruiting, selecting, and training department staff; and
  • marketing to external stakeholders.


Similarly, in planning and deploying a new ERP system, multiple processes, functions, and resources must be directed toward a common strategic organizational goal through program management capabilities5. By developing program management as a capability, and in return developing other organizational capabilities connected to program management, organizations become more agile in their ongoing operations and responses.


Developing Competencies For Program Management Application


In the 2010 McKinsey and Company survey, almost 60% of respondents listed improved organizational capabilities (such as program management) as one of their top three strategic priorities. And yet only around one-third of these organizations focus resources on training and developing these capabilities6. Again, in 2014, PMI’s Pulse of the Profession reported that almost half of strategic initiatives fail to meet their objectives7. And yet, less than 20% of executives mention the acquisition of leadership talent as a priority in their organizations8. Thus, the lack of knowledge and skills necessary for effective, strategic program management has been a consistent obstacle to program management application.


As one of the key forces driving an organization’s strategy, program management professionals offer leadership, communication, conflict resolution, reporting, and financial competencies necessary for developing program management as an organizational capability9. Their strategic awareness and oversight of all ‘related parts’ has an important impact on the successful implementation of programs10. So why are organizations not dedicating more time and resources to training and developing professionals in program management? The Project Management Institute’s Program Management Professional (PgMP) certification offers globally recognized competencies for program management professionals9. As of the writing of this paper, there are less than 1,800 professionals certified in PgMP.  These certified PgMP professionals are equipped with the skills and understanding to apply best practice program management principles. Most of them are also Project Management Professionals creating a powerful combination of skills, and these individuals are ideal change champions and thereby contribute toward successful strategic business execution and enterprise transformation to develop lasting competitive advantages.



Organizations frequently fail to apply program management or fail to apply program management effectively. The implication is that these organizations are less agile, less effective, and less capable than their competitive counterparts. By taking an enterprise approach and applying program management as an ongoing organizational capability rather than a temporary endeavor, organizations are in a better position to remain relevant and achieve sustainable advantages. One of the most important efforts toward developing program management maturity is to develop the competencies of program management in their organization, starting with program management professionals in the organization.



  1. Wanner, MF. Build organizational capability to improve strategy implementation. PMI Conference Paper [Internet]. 2015 May [cited 2017 Feb 19]; Available from: https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/organizational-capability-improve-strategy-9665
  2. https://www.pmi.org/learning/featured-topics/program
  3. Crawford, L. Developing organizational project management capability: Theory and practice. Project Management Journal. 2016. [cited 2017 Feb 19]; 2(3):298-311.
  4. Hillson, D.Assessing organisational project management capability. Journal of Facilities Management. 2003. [cited 2017 Feb 19]; 2(3):298-311.
  5. Ribbers, PMA, Schoo, C. Program management and complexity of ERP implementations. Engineering Management Journal. 2002. [cited 2017 Feb 19]; 14:2, 45-52.
  6. Gryger, L, Saar, T, Schaar, P. Building organizational capabilities: McKinsey Global Survey results. McKinsey and Company. 2010 Mar. [cited 2017 Feb 19]; Available from: http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/building-organizational-capabilities-mckinsey-global-survey-results
  7. Project Management Institute. Pulse of the Profession in-depth report: Enabling organizational change through strategic initiatives. 2014. Newtown Square, PA.
  8. Economist Intelligence Unit. Why Good Strategies Fail: Lessons for the C-Suite. 2013. [cited 2017 Feb 19]
  9. PMI Program Management Professional Handbook. 2016 Dec. [cited 2017 Feb 19]; Available from: http://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/certifications/program-management-professional-handbook.pdf
  10. Miterev M, Engwall M, Jerbrant A. Exploring program management competences for various program types. International Journal of Project Management. 2016 Apr 30;34(3):545-57.