Program Management Software and Tools: Ultimate Guide | Wrike
Program Management Software and Tools: Ultimate Guide

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 organizations 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. Its 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.

Program management vs. project management

Program management and project management are different levels of similar processes. Whereas program management aims to synchronize efforts and resources to successfully deliver multiple related projects simultaneously, project management focuses on completing one project at a time. 

Program management involves grouping and overseeing multiple dependent projects to reach an overall goal. Program managers typically focus on strategy, implementation, and resource management. They keep the big-picture goal in mind and organize program execution to maintain momentum toward the organization’s driving goals. 

Think of a program manager as an architect who sketches a design. The architect doesn’t install the plumbing or paint walls — they make sure the pieces all come together to create a beautiful house. The program manager looks beyond plumbing, walls, and missing contractors, and works toward creating the final picture of a house ready for sale to its first owners.

On the other hand, project management focuses on managing individual projects to deliver defined deliverables that add to the complete house. Project management is more tactical than program management and focuses on the operational elements of each project. Project managers focus on team and task management, schedule and budget maneuvering, and meeting predetermined deadlines. 

Project managers often report to program managers. They handle manageable issues, conflicts, and project risks, bringing in the program managers for significant updates, changes, or milestone celebrations. Think of a project manager as the lead painter, a representative from the plumbing agency, or the electrical engineering manager.

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 such as 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 companys 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 building from scratch each time.  

Change management

Aspects of a project may change, affecting the program its involved in. Program management software makes managing changes in projects or programs straightforward, allowing you to continue toward business goals. These changes may come from the macro environment, stakeholders, or project teams. Effective project management 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 manager 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:

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. 

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 of the program
  • Consulted: Who gives input and opinions on the program
  • Informed: Who is informed of the progress of the program

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.

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. 

Decision tree

A decision tree is a valuable program management tool for 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 easily design shared dashboards and customize workflows. 
  • 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 and 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 no team member carries the bulk of the work and no project lags.  
  • Templates: Multiple projects may have similar project workflows, planning, and communication templates. Program manager software provides templates that significantly reduce rework, improve the speed of work, and help replicate project success.

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 in ongoing projects
  • Enhancing cross-team collaborative working

How to manage programs with Wrike

Wrikes 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.

Here’s how 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

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

How 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. 

Wrikes 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 free two-week trial of Wrike today.

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