Are You Consistently Delivering Value and Timely Information?

Bill Hoberecht - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

As a Program Manager, what does your CIO need from you?  If you have trouble answering this, you might be facing troubled waters in your responsibilities. I've created a reminder list of program manager expectations from my program leader experiences and also from my time in positions as the senior leader supporting program managers. This article includes highlights from my list.

As a Program Manager, what does your CIO need from you?  If you have trouble answering this, you might be facing troubled waters in your responsibilities.

Whether you report to a CIO, VP or Director, your program manager job description surely omits some aspects that are essential for your success.  Unawareness or forgetting about these will likely have negative impacts on the program and perceptions of your abilities.

Long ago, I was the program director leading 70 developers on a program delivering solutions into a business unit.  We had a singular, laser focus on solution delivery.  In that regard, we were successful.  However, the business directors were not satisfied with my performance in leading the program - I had neglected aspects of stakeholder engagement.  I recognized afterwards that, despite the daily focus from executives on delivery, this was an unwritten expectation of my role.  Using delivery metrics alone, the program was successful; however, in the organization this program was a blemish on my performance.

You're thinking "This is a basic element of program management; how could you have neglected that?"  Fair question.  In the daily pressures of the work, I forgot.  I hadn't adequately considered all expectations of my role.

Never again!  Since then, I've created a reminder of program manager expectations from my program leader experiences and also from my time in positions as the senior leader supporting program managers.

Here are highlights of my list.  These first two are basic expectations but are worth revisiting and keeping fresh in our minds.

These are two that your CIO always expects you to cover:

  • Deliver the value needed by the customer.  Your unique role is ensuring that the investment in the program yields compelling value for your customer.  Quantifying and validating this positive impact will strengthen any assertion that the program was successful.  Your job is not limited to following a plan or delivering technology on time, it is to deliver value and outcomes that are in strategic alignment with the company and business direction.
  • Satisfy information and support needs of the people involved in the program.  Build communication bridges, share information that others need, listen and respond to their needs and concerns.  Your interactions with people set the tone for the program, and their memories of these interactions will live long beyond their recollection of what the program delivered.

 

Your relationship and interactions with the CIO:

  • Build trust and instill confidence.  Your CIO needs to have confidence that you can lead a team to accomplish the program goals.  They need you to be an accurate and authoritative source of information.  Be the first source of program information; you don't want the CIO to have to query you about something they heard elsewhere.  Your CIO needs you to be a source of solutions, not the cause of problems.  If you say you'll do something, ensure that you get it done. Provide timely information.
  • Satisfy the CIO's information needs. Some CIOs want summary info, others may want to see details.  Accommodate your current CIO's needs and communication preferences.  Respond immediately to requests arriving via an impromptu telephone call or instant message.  Certainly, schedule and budget questions will surface regularly, and also be prepared with information on other important topics (e.g., reaffirming anticipated benefits, team morale, issue resolution).
  • Don't push your responsibilities to the CIO.  They need you to do your job and not make it their job.  If you have a hard problem to solve, then rally the parties to resolve it.  If you have an impossible problem, then discuss options with your CIO but don't make it their job to solve your program problem.
  • Front-load communication.  Your CIO's time is precious.  In communicating, start with the key message (a request, a status, an update); don't consume meeting time or start an email with a story that concludes with the message you want to convey.  If they want the story, they'll ask.

 

Expectations in leading a program team - what the CIO assumes you are doing

  • Assembling the right team and skills.  Whether you are forming a team from scratch or joining an existing program team, you need to ensure that the right skills are present.  My programs have been cross-functional, and sometimes we've discovered that an essential area is not involved (e.g., cyber security, database, organizational change management) - it falls to you in closing that skills and involvement gap.
  • Choosing the best enablers.  You'll need to guide the program and contributing projects to selecting the most effective framework - for some, predictive "plan and schedule" methods are best, for others it might be some form of implementing agile principles (e.g., locally tailored Kanban or Scrum).  Adopt the most effective tools that support the selected frameworks; in particular, don't use MS-Project for Scrum teams, nor would you want to use a tool intended for Scrum if your projects are schedule-based.
  • Keeping things on track.  You are in place to deliver value, and your CIO assumes you have sufficiently deep skills in program management to lead the program towards a successful value delivery - often these skills are listed in your job description, and include managing: program changes, communications, financial performance, procurement, quality, resources, risks, issues, schedules, dependencies, and scope.
  • Responding to circumstances.  Even with the best risk planning, situations that impede program progress will arise.  Your CIO will count on you to lead the team in "thinking outside the box" and applying critical thinking to constructing a suitable resolution.  The emergence of an issue is not a "get out of jail card" that gives permission to adjust the program's objectives and constraints.
  • Stakeholder engagement.  Talk with, not just to stakeholders.  Engaging with stakeholders is quite different from just pushing information to them via email and presentations.  Take positive action when you detect ambivalence or that a stakeholder has "checked out."  Discover concerns held by a stakeholder before they go around you and bring it to your CIO.
  • A solid leader.  At times you'll need to be a calming figure in the midst of chaos, a good negotiator, an articulate communicator, a capable problem solver, high in emotional intelligence, are credible in presenting to executives, and have poise in tense situations.  You continuously assist the team in closing in on a solution and don't amplify troublesome situations.
  • Looking Ahead.  You're considering improvements to methods, how to engage people for product/application improvements, new tools to streamline development and program management, and innovations (e.g., use of generative AI) for the program.

 

There are other contributions you can make to a program - these go beyond a narrow remit of delivering value to an identified business need and might be beneficial for the team and a program.  Here are a few to consider:  creating or optimizing team patterns and processes, coaching individuals and teams, teaching time management techniques, and pro-actively proposing solutions to business needs.

As a program manager, what have you found that your CIO needs from you?  What expectations have been a surprise to you?