12 January, 2023

Program Management 101: Your Introductory Guide to Program Management

By Mike Clayton

12 January, 2023

program management, video

In this Program Management 101, you’ll learn what Program Management is, what the main Program Management disciplines are, the Program lifecycle, and my top 7 Program Management principles.

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This is learning, so, sit back and enjoy

What is a Program?

A temporary endeavor that delivers a strategic transformation by coordinating a group of related projects, smaller programs, and other activities, to deliver benefits to the sponsoring organization. 

It is likely to span several years, and the activities will be related through things like:

  • Overlapping aims
  • Shared resource pool
  • The need to coordinate scheduling
  • Dependencies from one to another

Uncertainty is deeply ingrained in the nature of a program. They span many years and multiple initiatives. During that time, opportunities arise and the organizations situation will shift. As a result, Program Managers will need to shift activities in and out of the program envelope, and alter the details of ongoing projects. Programs made use of the concept of agility – though not the word – before the Agile Manifesto was dreamt of!

Typical examples of programs are:

  • Delivering a substantial strategic vision
  • Transforming an organization to meet new market or compliance requirements
  • Bringing together a cluster of related projects to harness the benefits of coordinated delivery

What is Program Management?

Program Management is the application of methods, processes, and knowledge to deliver a program and its planned benefits, across all constituent activities.

The Importance of Benefits and Value in Program Management

Long before we started talking about value and benefits management in Projects, they were at the core of Program Management. Benefits are outcomes that stakeholders will perceive as improvements.

Program Benefits Management is one of the 5 Performance Domains of the PMI’s Standard for Program Management (4th Edition) and Benefits realization management is one of the 7 Governance Themes of the UK Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) methodology. And the starting place for this is the strategic nature of Programs and the direct link to corporate strategy and objectives. 

Benefit and value delivery are therefore the only meaningful measure of program success. Value is a measure of the surplus of benefits over total cost, either:

  • Total Benefit – Total Cost
  • Total Benefit / Total Cost
  • ROI = (Total Benefit – Total Cost)/Total Cost

For more on value, see my video, What is Value?

To understand this linkage better, do take a look at our video, Project Portfolio Management: How to Craft a Portfolio in 5 Steps.

Program Management Disciplines

I will go with 5 core disciplines

  1. Strategic Vision (for the Program) 
  2. Program Planning 
  3. Program Control 
  4. Program Organization and Governance 
  5. Benefits Management

Borrowed Disciplines

  • Stakeholder Engagement 
  • Risk and Issue Management 
  • Business Case Development 
  • Resource and Capability Management 
  • Quality Management 

The Program Lifecycle

I will go with

  • Diagnostic  
  • Definition 
  • Delivery 
  • Closure 

How to Deliver a Program

  • Organizational Strategy
  • Problem to be solved or opportunity to be seized
  • Idea for Program
  • Mandate
  • Identify business sponsorship

Diagnostic stage

  • Business Vision
  • Gather baseline data
  • Identify potential benefits (performance improvements)
  • Set overall Program Objectives


  • Stakeholder consultation and engagement
  • Benefits statement, Benefits Realization Plan, and Benefits Owners
  • Develop cost model and program budget
  • Develop Governance framework
  • Plan the program and approach to coordination and management
  • Identify projects and initiatives and the key dependencies among them
  • Creates Program Definition, Business Blueprint, and Business Case


  • Monitoring and reviewing: delivery, risk, expenditure, resource utilization, delivery quality, benefits realization
  • Program control
  • Program reporting
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Provide leadership and governance at all levels
    • Program Go-Live events and transition of assets and processes into operational BAU


  • Orderly wind-up of program activities
  • Debrief and lessons learned
  • Celebration
  • Long-term follow-up and benefits optimization

Program Management Principles

My principles

  1. Relentless Focus on Benefits  
  2. Alignment w Enterprise Strategy 
  3. Future-focused Communication 
  4. Benefits of Integrated Portfolio of Projects 
  5. Sponsorship and Governance at the highest Organizational Levels 
  6. An agile approach to maintaining and prioritizing Program portfolio against strategy and benefits 
  7. Constant Adaptation from experience 

Best Program Management Guides

Carefully curated video recommendations for you:

What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

Learn Still More

For more great Project Management videos, please subscribe to the OnlinePMCourses YouTube channel.

If you want basic Management Courses – free training hosted on YouTube, with 2 new management lessons a week, check out our sister channel, Management Courses.

For more of our Project Management videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management.

For more of our videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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