job description: A program manager oversees a set of interdependent IT projects that need to be synchronized and completed successfully to achieve a broader goal. “The program manager is responsible for pulling those teams together and tying those projects into a single view,” says Sam Lawler, practice director of project management and strategy at GlassHouse Technologies.
Program managers understand a program’s technology requirements and the business goals. They can talk about applications to a developer or give the CIO a high-level picture of the program’s progress. Program management is the way most IT work will be carried out in the future, so this is definitely a hot job, says David Van De Voort, principal human capital consultant at Mercer Human Resource Consulting. “Program managers manage the processes by which technology gets done. These are more business roles than tech jobs. It’s a key boundary spanner.”
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why you need one: A decade ago, most IT initiatives could be undertaken as single projects. Not anymore. The reason: the complexity of IT resources and assets and their impact on a company’s business operations. “For CIOs trying to implement change, change inevitably comes in the form of complex projects, which are really programs,” Lawler says. IT initiatives today often require a programmatic approach to ensure proper execution and coordination. Program managers are experts in structured frameworks for provision of IT services and in methods for managing processes. Using a disciplined approach, they define needs, establish budgets and manage progress.
desired skills: Knowledge of developing and future technology and business trends. Project and program management coursework and certifications. A bachelor’s or master’s in computer science, as well as an MBA.
how to find them: “Find someone from the inside. They understand your technology and your business as well as your culture,” says Jim Lanzalotto, vice president at Yoh. Look for midlevel managers who have expertise in application development, operations and services, as well as 10 years of IT experience, five of those years doing project or program management.
what to look for: Program managers must be skilled communicators, goal oriented, highly organized, excellent planners and good negotiators. Other desirable qualities: positive, optimistic, fair and likable. “Anytime you manage a large team, people have to want to work for you in order to do a good job,” Lawler says. Candidates should have experience managing programs in sectors similar to your company and with comparable budgets, team size and duration.
elimination round: Ask candidates about the most complex program they have ever coordinated. Their answer will tell you whether they are qualified for the job.
salary range: $100,000 to $125,000
growing your own: Take a person with a strong technical background and expose to the business side. Knowledge of operations and product/service development process is key. Lawler emphasizes the ability to “programmatize,” which he defines as the art of taking a general business goal and breaking it into actions that can be measured and achieved.