Ireland Chapter of PMI

Lean Program Management

Author: Colin Burke , Global Customer Success Manager, VMware Tanzu

Recording of webinar 13th May 2021:

We all know that lean and agile practices are commonplace in our software development teams today. However we have probably all seen the friction that comes when we have a large scale program driving change through a centrally managed waterfall delivery model that is reliant on those lean and agile teams for success.

Teams have changed how they work, but programs haven’t. This has led us to experience many different challenges such as;
  • Lack of alignment and collaboration around objectives, metrics, and overall strategy
  • Large high fidelity plans that span over years, mapping out activities far beyond where our confidence can bring us
  • Teams pursuing an outcome when they are not even sure it is valuable
  • Command and control governance introducing friction and hindering the creation of value by over indexing on process

We have seen success in programs at scale when organisations adopt Lean Program Management and more of a focus on centrally enabling delivery versus managing it.

Lean Program Management focuses on applying the core principles of lean to how we deliver programs ensuring we partner with our customers, we understand where they are and what they want to achieve, and we bring disciplined flexibility to ensure that we take our learnings, introduce fast feedback loops, adjust and continue to deliver successful outcomes at every step.

  • A core component of our approach to Lean Program Management is leveraging management frameworks to create a shared understanding of our high level objectives, the measurement of success we are looking for, our strategies and the leading metrics to assess incremental progress. There are many frameworks out there (OGSM, OKR, KPI) and it’s important to remember there is no ‘right’ one, but many useful ones.

  • When we think about building programs that are likely to span large timeframes, we need to understand that no one has a crystal ball and our focus should be on balancing the level of detail in our plans with the level of confidence we have over a given time frame. High confidence and high fidelity in the short term, low confidence and low fidelity as we look further out. Does that mean we don’t plan long term, absolutely not, but we focus on the outcomes rather than the exact activities we will do as our timelines get further away. This provides a view of what we will achieve, and gives us the flexibility to leverage our experiences to define how we get there.

  • Lean Governance is a key principle in Lean Program Management, enabling us to make the right decisions with as little overhead as possible and ensuring that we avoid pursuing plans even when we know they aren’t working. There are different concepts within Lean Governance such as the management frameworks referenced above, growth boards and the 5S’s, but ultimately it is about ensuring we have fast feedback loops, continuous measurement and learning, enabling us to make key decisions on whether we pivot, persevere or kill initiatives or aspects of them.

  • Governance in the form of ‘command and control’ has been a feature of traditional programs, with a program team owning all of the actions and decisions but not necessarily doing the work and thus creating the friction we referenced. Compare that to how we build our lean and agile teams for software, where we think about values such trust, autonomy and enablement. As we shift our focus in program management away from those traditional approaches we begin to look at how we can support teams, enable them, coach them to make those decisions and own those actions, a form of servant leadership maybe, but we like to refer to it as a ‘centrally enabled, not centrally managed’ approach to building and delivering programs.

Lean Program Management is very much an evolving practice, and these are just some of the core concepts that sit at the heart of it. The industry has asked for a shift in our delivery approach, the community is responding, and we are starting to see the benefits that come fromleveraging and adapting the principles that have underpinned a way of working that transformed how we built software, so we can transform how we deliver programs