Quality Management as a Program

Quality System Management should be viewed and governed as a program

Program management is commonly defined as “a group of projects that contribute to a common, higher order objective.” The projects in a program are related, and the intent of achieving benefits would not be realized if the projects were managed independently.

Program management includes the practices and processes of strategic alignment, benefits management, stakeholder management, governance, and lifecycle management. Program governance creates the control framework for delivering the programs’ change objectives and making benefit delivery visible to the organization’s control.

There are different styles of program management and what I am focusing on here is what is sometimes called “heartbeat”, which aims to achieve evolutionary improvement of existing systems and processes or organizational change. This program type creates value by reconciling contradicting views and demands for change from various organization actors in order to enhance existing systems and practices while sustaining operations.

Heartbeat program management is all about awareness of the contexts of the program and requires knowledge of strategy, competition, trends in the industry, and differences in management practices between the business units of the company. A good heartbeat program manager is highly concerned about their program’s long-term effects and implications for the company’s business.

Magic triangle of a program manager

Programs exist to create value by improving the management of projects and to create benefits through better organization of projects. The fundamental goals of program management are:

  • Efficiency and effectiveness: Aspects of management that a proficient project manager should address and benefit from coordination.
  • Business focus goal: The external alignment of projects with the requirements, goals, drivers and culture of the wider organization. These goals are associated with defining an appropriate direction for the constituent projects within a program as well as for the program as a whole.
GoalDescription
Efficiency and effectiveness goals
Improved co-ordinationAssist in identification and definition of project inter-dependencies and thereby reduce the incidence of work backlogs, rework and delays
Improved dependency managementReduce the amount of re-engineering required due to inadequate management of the interfaces between projects
More effective resource utilizationImprove the effectiveness and efficiency of the allocation of shared resources
Assist in providing justification for specialist resources that deliver an overall improvement to program delivery and/or business operations
More effective knowledge transferProvide a means to identify and improve upon transferable lessons.
Facilitate organizational learning
Greater senior management ‘visibility’Enable senior management to better monitor, direct and control the implementation process
Business focus goals
More coherent communicationImprove communication of overall goals and direction both internally and externally to the program
Target management attention clearly on the realization of benefits that are defined and understood at the outset and achieved through the lifetime of the program and beyond
Assist in keeping personal agendas in check
Improved project definitionEnsure that project definition is more systematic and objective, thereby reducing the prevalence of projects with a high risk of failure or obsolescence
Enable the unbundling of activities in a strategic project-set into specific projects
Enable the bundling of related projects together to create a greater leverage or achieve economies of scale
Better alignment with business drivers, goals and strategyImproves the linkage between the strategic direction of organizations and the management activities required to achieve these strategic objectives
Provide an enabling framework for the realization of strategic change and the ongoing alignment of strategy and projects in response to a changing business environment (via project addition/culling, etc.)

The Attributes of a Good Heartbeat Program Manager are the Attributes to a Good Quality Leader

As quality leaders we are often ambassadors to ensure that the quality program is progressing despite the conflicting requirements of the various stakeholders. We need to actively influence quality-related decisions of all stakeholders, including people holding superior positions. Having a well-developed personal network within the organization is particularly helpful.

It is critical to always be communicating about the quality program in a visionary way, to be seen as passionate ambassadors. Playing this role requires constant attention to differing expectations of the stakeholders and various ways to influence stakeholders for the benefit of the quality system. To always be striving to build quality, to advance quality.

As advocates for Quality, it is a core competency to be able to stand up and defend, or argue for, the quality program and team members. This ability to challenge others, including their superiors, in a productive way is a critical ability.

A key focus of the quality program should be on engagement with a conscious and sustained drive to secure buy-in from key stakeholders (including senior management) and win over the hearts and minds of those responsible for execution to make changes feel less painful and inflicted. As quality leaders our aim should always be to engender a climate of comprehension, inclusion and trust, and to draw upon expertise globally to create fit for purpose processes and systems

Effective quality leaders need to be “heavyweight” organizational players.

Core Competencies of the Heartbeat Manager

  • Contextual awareness
  • Scenario planning
  • Political skills
  • Courage
  • Networking

A note on program life

Many standard approaches perceive programs to have a finite life. This is constraining given that the strategies themselves, especially as applied to quality, have long lifetimes. I believe that program management has as much to learn from quality management,  and there is a lot of value in seeing an indefinite time horizon as beneficial.

Quality management is an evolutionary approach, and utilizing program management methodologies within it should be taken in the same light.

6 thoughts on “Quality Management as a Program

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