The Definitive Guide to Program Management Tools

A program is a group of related projects managed as a unit to achieve economies of scale. For example, a program to relaunch the digital arm of a company would comprise projects in the development, marketing, and design teams. 

A program manager combines and oversees these projects to maintain a shared strategic goal, enhance cross-functional collaboration, and save costs. Program management drives an organization's strategic goals and is less tied to deadlines and project-level deliverables. 

This article dives deep into program management, its tools, software features, and techniques. 

What is program management?

Program management is the coordinated management of several related projects to improve organizational performance. It's a strategic management approach to executing and directing multiple projects with a shared goal. 

Program management drives benefits for an organization by sharing project resources, costs, and activities. It helps to keep stakeholders and project managers informed and aligned. There must be consistency between the methods for managing a program and the projects it oversees.

What are the benefits of program management software?

Programs are focused on long-term goals and require multilayered plans to achieve these aims. This calls for robust program management software that can drill down to project-level tasks and zoom out to big-picture plans to enable better decision-making. Other benefits of program management software include:

Strategic alignment

Program management software provides visibility into various ongoing projects, giving stakeholders, sponsors, and program managers clarity. Like in project planning, program management tools show the program plan broken down into a timeline of projects, tasks, and activities. This helps to keep everything on track and handle challenges before they become obstacles.  

Organizational efficiency

Program management software enables program managers to monitor team efforts across the company. This increases efficiency by reducing bottlenecks and task dependencies and allocating more resources where needed. Program management software like Wrike allows you to log hours to see how long it takes to complete a particular task, meaning you can make data-driven decisions. 

Program effectiveness

Program management software ensures that programs effectively align project goals with the company's strategic goals. Program managers can design shared dashboards for teams to keep targets front and center and ensure that projects stay on track and the program succeeds. 

Risk management

Program management software helps program managers identify risk factors and communicate with the project manager or stakeholder involved, increasing the chances of managing the risk in time. With program management software, best practices and templates are built-in, saving you from making avoidable mistakes and having to build from scratch each time.  

Change management

Aspects of a project may change, affecting the program it's involved in. Program management software makes managing changes in projects or programs straightforward, allowing you to continue towards business goals. These changes may come from the macroenvironment, stakeholders, or project teams. Project management software helps to identify them and respond in time.

Resource management

Program management software ensures that resources are accounted for and available when needed. Time, budgetary, and team constraints are typical. Program management tools and software provide visibility into resource availability, which in turn aids resource allocation. Program managers must be adept at juggling constraints for a program to be successful.

One-click reporting

Programs are evolving projects with many interdependencies and stakeholders involved. Program management software enables easy reporting throughout the program life-cycle. Program managers can set reports to be distributed on a schedule or share them manually. Program management software shows real-time data to facilitate better decision-making.

Program management techniques

Program management techniques are borrowed from other management practices to help program managers develop ideas and communicate them to stakeholders and project managers. Some of these techniques are:

  1. SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats): A SWOT analysis is used to forecast threats and opportunities facing a program. It's quick to implement and explain. SWOT helps program managers gain greater understanding and insight. 
  2. RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed): A RACI diagram describes the roles, responsibilities, and tasks of stakeholders and teams involved in a program. It's an acronym formed from the four participatory roles, which are:
    Responsible: Who works on projects and tasks
    Accountable: Who takes accountability for failure or credit for success for the program
    Consulted: Who gives input and opinions on the program
    Informed: Who is informed of the progress of the program
  3. Stakeholder matrix: A stakeholder matrix maps stakeholder interests in terms of their importance and potential impact on the program. Program managers must effectively manage stakeholders' interests by resolving conflicting goals and prioritizing the best outcome for the company. The stakeholder matrix's goal is to capture, align, communicate, and deliver stakeholder objectives.
  4. Risk map: This is a visual representation of risk probability in a program. It is calculated in terms of likelihood and impact and ranges between low, medium, and high. Combined risk classification of high likelihood and high impact would mean a significant risk. 
  5. Decision tree: A decision tree is a valuable program management tool in deciding between several projects. It provides a structure to explore options and possible outcomes. It also helps to form a balanced view of the risks and rewards associated with each project. A decision tree is most useful when resources are scarce.

Do you need a program management tool?

Every business that runs related projects with different teams and project managers needs a program management tool to manage ongoing projects in harmony. 

The program manager coordinates all projects with a program management tool that displays information about the projects with relevant details and visibility for each stakeholder or project manager. Program management tools align project goals with business strategies and long-term objectives. 

Features to look for in program management tools

The best program management tools prioritize organization and collaboration to capitalize on the synergies between projects in a program. 

Your program management tool should enable you to manage tasks, communicate easily with stakeholders and project managers, and track progress both on ongoing projects and the program in general. 

Look for tools that include custom workflows, dynamic forms, and templates to make your work easier. Other features you need in program management tools include: 

  • Gantt charts: Gantt charts place projects and tasks on a timeline, helping to plan, manage, and schedule everything clearly and visually. Use Gantt charts to show the program roadmap and highlight critical milestones. You can also drill down to the project task level.
  • Dashboards: Dashboards show essential data about a program and help managers oversee team progress on different projects. A good program management tool should enable you to design shared dashboards and customize workflows easily. 
  • Time tracking: With time-tracking tools, you can log hours and determine how long it takes to complete a particular task. This helps with resource planning allocation.
  • Team management: The best program management tools have features that streamline communicating, assigning, and scheduling work for project managers and teams. Good team management ensures that no team member carries the bulk of the work and no project lags.  

How to integrate program management software

Sometimes you may have projects and teams using different project management and work tools or applications. There may be overlapping uses of these tools, causing duplicate or loss of communication, misunderstandings, and avoidable mistakes. A situation like this calls for program integration.  

It's essential to review and identify all overlaps and inefficiencies in your projects and team and develop an integration plan. Draft your integration strategy with the input of key stakeholders and project managers. This would entail:

  • Considering the integration activities required to cover gaps between projects
  • Mapping a definition of the project scopes that require integration at the program level
  • Pulling together program resource requirements
  • Developing a meeting schedule focused on key integration activities and program updates
  • Producing an integration plan
  • Implementing the integration strategy to align projects under the program level
  • Monitoring changes and other developments at the program level
  • Overseeing risk reviews at the program level

Choose the program management software that best integrates with other work applications used by project teams. The program manager must define the level of integration and adopt a framework for aligning each project in a program. Integration at the program level can be very effective in enhancing the delivery of related projects. 

The benefits of integrating program management software include:

  • Gaining more understanding of dependencies between various projects
  • Identifying efficiencies across the program
  • Identifying critical paths
  • Enhancing collaborative working

How to manage programs with Wrike

Wrike's program management software provides a robust platform that fits the needs of teams of varying sizes. It streamlines and automates program management with a single source of truth, easy reporting, and data visualization tools. To manage programs with Wrike: 

  • Get started with a template
  • Add your related projects
  • Invite key stakeholders and project managers
  • Design customized workflows
  • Integrate other work applications
  • Build shared dashboards for teams and projects
  • Use reports to track and improve program performance

Wrike's platform is intuitive and collaborative, offering various timeline displays, including Gantt charts and time-tracking tools to maximize employee time and improve resource planning

Why Wrike helps with program management

Program management requires high-level involvement in multiple ongoing projects. Managing one can be overwhelming without the right tools and techniques. 

Wrike's program management tools help teams create their best work and achieve strategic goals. Whether working remotely or in-office, you can get a birds-eye view of your program and projects at any time. Ready to take control of your programs and gain economies of scale? Get started with a two-week free trial of Wrike today.

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