Part 1 - Roles and responsibilities

The following month Jason and Anna run a workshop with some of the senior management looking at the theory of project, programme and portfolio management (P3M).

Their preparation for this workshop has extended to the creation of a small pack of information they intend to hand out plus a schedule for the day.

Jason and Anna are both the sort of people who are always very well prepared.  On the rare occasions that they attend a meeting without preparation they stutter, falter and stumble. They are distrustful of people who wander into meetings late asking: ‘what is this meeting is about?’

There had been quite a prickly conversation about who should open the day. At first Jason assumed he would start the meeting but Anna can be relied upon absolutely to pick up on any assumption about male and female roles.

Actually Anna is in a supporting role as she is no expert in these areas. In a very Anna way she is picking it up quickly through diligent work at home over many evenings spent with text books, websites and notebook. She has written copious notes in her own hand as this she finds this prompts her memory.

When they decide how to run the day, Jason makes the mistake of being slightly condescending when passing the role across to Anna. Anna had bristles at this, looks sharply at Jason and matches him nicely with a withering statement: ‘no, you start, the men will feel more comfortable with another man’ said in a tone that suggested that fleas and cockroaches do tend to feel more comfortable with other fleas and cockroaches.

On the day, Jason, trying to be as un-flea-like as possible opens the workshop by saying: ‘Good morning ladies and gentlemen. This workshop has been designed to promote discussion about the roles and responsibilities that P3 good practice suggests we need.’

‘We have used the Praxis Framework to source our information and this offers a wealth of good practice. I believe you are all aware of Praxis? It does however have to meet the requirements of many organisations and our challenge today is to interpret this for our own organisation. The result of our work today will form the basis of a tailored framework for SpendItNow.’

One of the senior managers asks: ‘What is the difference between a framework and a methodology?’

A wag replies from the back; ‘the price.’

Jason joins in the laughter and goes on to explain that Praxis is actually free. He then glances across at Anna who is rather stony faced at this exchange in a come-on-let’s-get-on-with-it kind of way.

Jason continues: ‘On the screen is the overall structure of a strategic portfolio’

‘This is the tip of an iceberg in that you can drill down into each area to find more and more details about the topics.’

You will see that there are three columns in the main matrix alongside the general levels of management of a project orientated organisation.

The rightmost column contains information about the functions used to manage programmes and projects. You will learn there how to plan projects using techniques such as critical path analysis and prepare a risk register amongst many other things. These are very likely to apply to us as they are fundamental techniques.

Right on cue, Jason hands over to Anna who takes the floor. In her arms a few sheets of paper rustle together in an important manner. She hands out a copy of these to each delegate.

Anna starts her part: ‘Thank you, Jason. Now Ladies and Gentlemen, my role today is to lead a discussion where we define a number of roles for SpendItNow.

The roles we would like to start off with are three of the key roles in P3 management:

  • Portfolio Manager
  • Programme Manager
  • Project Manager

Anna continues in line with the agenda she and Jason had prepared a few days earlier.

‘In summary, the portfolio management team provide overall co-ordination of the projects and programmes ensure that they fit in with corporate strategy. A programme manager manages a programme by delegating projects to the project managers and monitoring their progress. Programme managers also look after links and interactions between the many projects in their programmes. Project Managers manage a specific project or projects.’

Anna beams around the room adding her personality to the weight of her words, words she recalls only copying out a few days earlier. To her relief no one questions her and this is why she beams. It is relief that lights up her smile.

She says: ‘You have before you a ‘straw man’ – what some people call an Aunt Sally - a start point if you will.

Actually you have three straw men as you have the three definitions as start points.

‘I suggest that we break into three groups and read through the three role definitions.  Each group will then assume one of the three roles and each group can ask the others about their roles. This might sound a bit like a game but it should work well.’

And it does work well. Three groups are formed and three groups read the three definitions and three groups get coffee and return to the table armed with various questions.

This is what the three teams read (these are just the high level definitions – the full descriptions are contained in Anna’s files)

SpendItNow – Draft Role Definitions
Role: Portfolio Management Team

The Portfolio Management Team will have overall control of all programmes. One person or a team may fill this role. If the latter, then one member of the team should be designated chairperson, and one member given the responsibility for day-to-day responsibilities. The Change Manager and Technical Authority will normally be members of the team. The Programme Managers will normally attend meetings but will not be decision makers. This role includes delegating authority to the Programme Managers.


SpendItNow – Draft Role Definitions
Role: Programme Manager

The Programme Manager establishes and manages the overall programme plan. The role carries out day-to-day management of the group of projects in the programme. To do this the Programme Manager must ensure that the management and support environment for each project is adequate. Project progress, risks, issues, changes, variances and exceptions must be monitored. It is particularly important that the Programme Manager takes early control of any problems which impact more than one project on the programme.

The Programme Manager is the link between the projects and the portfolio management team and therefore to the strategy of the organisation. 


SpendItNow – Draft Role Definitions
Role: Project Manager

The Project Manager is given the authority to run the project on a day to day basis, within constraints and tolerance set by the Project Sponsor.

The prime responsibility is to make sure the Sponsor and stakeholders are comfortable that the solution is likely to produce the required output(s). This will require the project to deliver products. The role must ensure the project delivers these products, on time, in budget and to agreed quality standards.


Whilst this goes on Anna and Jason huddle.

Jason unsubtly boasts about his long experience of dealing with senior managers in a training environment by telling Anna how, almost regardless of seniority, age and experience, grown men in these workshops revert to their school days. ‘They will do almost anything you ask as, for the duration of the workshop, you are the teacher and they are school kids. They even start to skip bits of work and become slightly naughty after a day or two. It is a very rare person who remembers that the company is paying for this training and the delegates should be treated as customers.’

At one level Anna doesn’t really believe this but at another level – the level where she sees the way men act when on their own – she is more than happy to accept everything Jason says on this topic as being complete reasonable.

Accepting anything from Jason is a concession, accepting everything he says makes her feel weak and less than totally self-reliant and this is a feeling she has never liked.

However, as Jason goes on in the most insulting and amusing of tones about school boys with grubby knees and less than ideal personal hygiene, Anna is reduced to stuffing her knuckles into her mouth to stop her giggles coming out and being heard by the senior managers.

Later she will wonder when she last giggled with a man.

Later still, she will wonder when will be the next time.

The three teams reassemble at the table and Anna, now fully composed, asks for comments:

One of the directors asks about programmes, ‘If I read this correctly, larger organisations have many programmes broken down into a number of projects?’

Jason is ready to answer as the local expert. He clears his throat and says, ‘Let’s take a large motor manufacturer who plans a move into a new geographical market. The strategy is to start profitable trading in, say, Korea. To achieve this, the wide variety of functional departments into which the company is split need to do work that moves towards this target.

Let’s try and list the functional departments you would expect to find and think about the work they would have to undertake. Any ideas?’

The director thinks about and says that they are certain to have a manufacturing function, a marketing function and another for IT.

‘If they plan to manufacture in Korea they will have to think about a new plant or assembly facility. Marketing will have to get ready to run campaigns in the new market where the needs will be wholly different and they will probably need local input and the IT people will need new systems to deal with parts and production and so on in the new markets. Is that what you mean by functions?’

Jason says, ‘That’s an excellent example but yes – the manufacturing function will have a number of projects to run to get their own function into shape for this new challenge. Don’t forget that they might have subsidiaries dealing with passenger cars, lorries, buses and motorbikes. Image how each group would have their own range of programmes and projects to address.

‘Large programmes tend to be spread across the functional structure of the organisation. A significant risk is run by most organisations when they run cross-functional programmes or projects, as involving more than one function is often a cause of problems and difficulties.

‘Based on this approach then, what roles do we have?’ asks another director who contribution to this story is so brief as to remain anonymous.

‘I think we will move towards having a portfolio management team which will report to the main board of directors.

Three programme managers and a number of project managers will report into this team’, replies Jason.

Anna thinks to herself that anyone who can say ‘I think we can move towards’ without a trace of humour deserves to be management consultant. This would be fine if Anna had not been brought up by Mr Henry Key, her bombastic, disappointed but widely experienced father, to keep well away from double glazing salesmen, estate agents, politicians, management consultants and other outright crooks.

The Chief Financial Officer has been listening to all this and jumps in as keenly as ever without being asked: ‘We looked at the programme manager’s role and we rather felt that we had misused this title in the past’, he looks at his fellow team members for confirmation and gets two nods from people still wide awake and continues, ‘so we talked relationships – what is the relationship between a programme manager and a project manager?’

Before Jason can reply a wise old bird notes that ‘we have been using the title programme manager as an excuse to pay our better project managers more money – the job is just the same isn’t it Jason?’

‘It is often used as simply a mechanism for retaining staff but it shouldn’t be. A project manager is a direct report to the programme manager. The programme manager accepts responsibility for delivering the whole programme and divides the work into projects. He or she (Jason glances over to Anna at this point) defines these projects and highlights the inter-relationships between those projects. But he (another glance) leaves the project managers to run their own projects in their own way as much as possible as long as their plans fit within the overall programme plan. The programme manager monitors the projects not so much in terms of timescale and budget but in terms of their objectives, their deliverables and their dependence on other projects.

‘Let’s take an example. A programme manager wants to err……’

Jason is not a master of the art of analogy but realises that he needs a sound example of the sort of thing he means that the delegates can relate to.  His eyes cast around in a slightly panicky search for inspiration when Anna leaps to his help.

Anna spent a good part of the morning listening on the radio to the Olympics so says ‘If the programme was to run a successful Olympic Games, what projects would there be, Jason?’ Rescuing Jason has restored her normally cast-iron self-confidence.

‘Well, says Jason, ‘there might be a project manager for each sport and for each major event – so perhaps there would be one for the 100M sprint, one for the Javelin and one for the Marathon’

‘Which project manager’s for the high jump?’ asks one manager? They all laugh until another says ‘All of them’ at which point they laugh even more. Even Anna smiles at this.

Jason waits until they settle down before going on. ‘The programme manager gives each project manager their mandate or brief and tries to ensure that nothing has been left out, nothing falls down in the cracks between the projects. He tries to motivate the project managers. His first concern is with the overall programme – in this case the event – he defines the overall event, oversees the preparation of the programme documentation and worries about programme level risk. He shares out resources to the project managers and watches for positive and negative impacts of one project on another.’

The audience demands an example and Jason starts to remember why he doesn’t normally use analogies as things can so easily get out of hand.

‘A positive impact for example’, he says whilst thinking quickly, ‘is that the scoring systems must be working before any of the events can take place. A negative impact is, umm….’

Anna to the rescue once again, ‘Making sure that no one throws a Javelin off course and impales a sprinter.’

Jason realises he needs to get out of the Kingdom of Analogy before it loses its ‘ogy’. He says with inspiration,

‘Anna, let’s take your current project – are you truly a programme or project manager? Tell us about your project please.’

Anna dutifully describes the e-Trolley project. Everyone has heard something about it but few of them had thought about the IT, retail and marketing projects that will eventually deliver the successful working solution.
‘In one sense I guess I’m really a programme manager’, she says, ‘in fact I sound like a programme manager handing projects out to the project managers. Can I get a pay rise please?’

In effect, the pilot project is a sophisticated form of the identification phase of the programme life cycle

Jason is half way into saying that this isn’t really the time or place to….when he realises that everyone is starting at him as he missed the joke completely. This is not as surprising as the fact that Anna has made a joke.  ‘Oops’, he thinks. ‘What is going on in that women’s mind?’

Jason also points out that the programme in the case of the e-Trolley is preceded by the initial pilot to see if the concept is viable. Anna is to be a project manager of the pilot and the full programme will depend on the findings of the pilot. He emphasises that the current project is just to test the idea.

‘The project deliverables ,’ Anna explains,’ will be a set of reports outlining the feasibility of the e-Trolley concept including a business case, risk register, programme plan as well as technical papers and designs. It may well be that the company decides not to proceed with the programme past that point for a whole raft of reasons including technical issues, risks, costs and other priorities. How unusual is this two stage approach, Jason?

‘It is very common. The roll out project has a clear dependency on the pilot project and there is a check point or boundary between them. Some people talk about gates in such cases where the work has to pass through a gate review before proceeding.  Anna’s responsibility is to deliver enough information for the programme management team to make a sensible decision about the next phase of the programme. She should not be biased either way.

The third group is tempted into the discussion. ‘We looked at the project manager’s role’, reports Sue Denim, their spokesperson, ‘and we read about the project definition documentation. This is something some of us have used in the past but don’t anymore in our area of the company anyway. We spent ages drawing up the documents but didn’t know what to do with it. Could we see good example and understand what should happen to it. Who should approve these documents’?’

Jason sees and seizes the chance to redeem himself from his most recent gaff. He says that the definition documentation should be the basis of the project and should lay down the objectives, schedule, budget, targets, risks and a whole range of other characteristics of the project. For projects that are part of a programme, project-level documents should be approved by the programme manager and should be referred to at each project meeting to check that the project is on target and that its target is still valuable.

The morning is nearly over when Jason takes the floor again after the coffee has been served, slurped and drunk and cleared away by the hotel staff.

‘I would like to discuss another relationship issue which seems to be a problem in this company.’

A momentary flash of concern races across Anna’s brow as she thinks for a moment Jason is talking about the slightly fraught relationship he and she share but in another moment she realises that this is a really silly thought – Jason would never raise a personal relationship issue in public, would he? She thinks that would be like one of those ridiculous public proposals of marriage on the London Eye or the stage at a London show.

During the walk, they see some work going on to drain the lake in the grounds of the conference centre. Little do they know that the company that manages the centre is also wrestling with the concept of project management.

For an approach to managing small, simple projects read Mike Watson’s book, Managing simple projects

Her relationship with Jason is a thought that will trouble her for a few days to come.

Jason continues: ‘the question is this: what is the relationship between the project managers and the people that actually do work on their projects?

‘Anna will soon be running a project in SpendItNow but  there will be no staff members devoted to working on the project full time so she will have to take some people away from their normal work and get them to work on the  project. It is very likely that there will be competition for those people coming from the other project managers and their usual line managers.

‘After lunch I would like to take you through this issue.’

Lunch is a short affair with, to the disappointment of some, no alcohol, no heavy food and a complete absence of cream cakes. Jason and Anna tempt quite a few of the attendees outside for a short walk around the conference centre’s sunny grounds taking a long route back to the meeting room.

All of this minor manoeuvring is less concerned with good healthy living than it is to do with keeping everyone awake immediately after lunch.

At some conferences where lunches can be long, heavy and washed down with wine, it is not uncommon for a few people to settle into a boring presentation where the lights and presenter are equally dim and the projector gently hums. This is a great opportunity to catch up on the sleep they missed last night. You could rightly accuse pairs of complete strangers of sleeping together in most conferences.

Jason and Anna want their delegates to keep going hence the light lunch, refreshing walk, a sneakily turned down room thermostat and the generous and strong coffee available from lunchtime onwards.

Jason switches into presentation/lecture mode and starts his talk about relationships.

Part 2 - Jason explains matrix management


Thanks to Geoff Reiss for contributing this book


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