What is the key to IT program management?

The ability to categorize IT programs and assign them appropriate tactics, skills and resources is critical to the generation of positive outcomes, according to Gartner, inc. Programs that are not properly categorized are significantly more likely to run over budget, to fall short of one or more of the intended objectives, or to fail completely.

“The adage ‘the right tool for the right job’ is every bit as appropriate to IT programs as it is to carpentry or plumbing,” said Michael Hanford, research vice president at Gartner. “Understanding different program types, the characteristics, requirements and benefits involved, and how they should be applied to meet different organizational, structural or governance needs is too often neglected in the early stages of planning.”

To help program managers categorize their programs and plan accordingly, Gartner has identified five types of program:

Bottom-up: Multiple projects that are recognized — after they have started — as part of a larger set of problems and as sharing dependencies. They are then assembled into a single program for better control and avoidance of redundancy.

Change-oriented: These programs are generally triggered by a high-level need for major change. They normally encompass multiple initiatives that may or may not be formally assembled into a program.

Policy-driven: This type of program is unique to government and the public or public service sectors, including government, social, charitable and nongovernmental organizations. A policy-driven program typically enables provision of a law, regulation or defined service — and continues until canceled or no longer funded.

Outcome-driven: These programs are driven by a concept of, or a vision for, a product, service or generally identified set of results, or to address a specific need. The concept, program contents and required results evolve naturally during program execution.

Transformational: These programs represent an effort that transcends the organization’s current vision and its recent history and direction. They usually represent reinventions of one or more aspects of the organization’s functions, services, culture, markets or products.

“There’s much more to this than simply comparing the characteristics of a proposed program to Gartner’s five types and selecting the best fit,” said Mr. Hanford. “It’s important to educate other business and IT leaders and give them an effective organizational process to select the right program type to drive success. It is equally important to create and execute an early step in any program startup that selects a program type and validates it through leadership consensus building.”

Although this introduces an extra step to the startup process for programs, it is upfront work that can go a long way toward avoiding some of the root causes of program failure, such as incorrect or poor governance and ineffective change management.

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