The 5 A’s on the program manager’s report card

"Greatness begins beyond your comfort zone." –Robin Sharma

One of my kids came home with a report card the other day. I saw it laying on the stairs when I was on my way to go to bed. I picked it up and stared at it for awhile. The result was great and made me feel proud. Once I was beyond the point of happiness, I looked at the scoring mechanism and concluded that through the years it has not changed much. The other thought that came to mind was how would a report card of a program manager look like. 

The easiest and most obvious way is to measure a program manager’s performance on traditional metrics like scope, schedule and budget. Still in most of the job profiles today you read something like: “must deliver the planned scope of work on time and on budget”. I wonder if that still makes sense in a world where leaders need to rely more on soft skills to make things happen. The capability to apply the technical aspects of program management must be there, no doubt, but the ultimate success is a result of other qualifications.

What A’s must a program manager score? I think the following five apply:


Many years ago when I worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers they communicated being visionary, bold, open and accountable as core values of their professionals. I like them all and probably accountability the most. It determines whether you are a winner or not. Strong program managers put their teeth in an initiative they believe in and deliver no matter what.


Program managers show their true colors at times of adversity. With strong headwinds blowing, accomplished program managers have alternative strategies in their back-pocket. With their helicopter view and ability to connect the dots, they are best positioned to provide sound recommendations to adjust, correct and overall stay the course. 


It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, but a top-notch program manager must have a high degree of flexibility. In today's volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment the key levers of any program are under pressure all the time. It is critical to have some sort of ‘sense and response’ system that helps you maneuver through the landscape.


The thought behind this measure is that the program manager maintains a set of habits to are being applied by default without putting to much thought into it. For experienced program managers it is imperative that they provide strong facilitation, communication and problem-solving skills instantly. These are a few examples of core skills.


In one of my other posts, I wrote that ambiguity is the silent killer of any initiative. A high level of ambiguity can be an indication that the level of trust amongst the business partners who participate in the program, is not where it needs to be in order to deliver on time, scope and budget. An experienced program manager is on top of this and avoids the program to enter into a ‘stuck-in-the-middle’ situation.

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