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Programme Leadership is all about Focus

Managing a programme is a very different endeavour than managing a project.  In project management most, if not all, aspects of a project can be understood by the project manager.

A programme is, by definition, a large undertaking made up of many sub-projects or workstreams.

More than one group of stakeholders are affected and a programme is often cross departmental. There is therefore a lot of information and aspects of a programme that the programme manager needs to manage or lead.

If organisations were not doing transformation programmes before Covid-19, they will probably start these very soon so that they are ready for the ‘new normal’.

Organisations will have a lot riding on these transformation programmes and, for some, their survival may be at stake.

Programme leadership is crucial to the success of these programmes.

I have run a number of transformational programmes and have conducted a number of programme reviews for clients.

I often see programme managers trying to micro-manage every aspect of the programme. This is a big mistake.

Focus on the Big Picture

To me the successful programmes have great leadership as you would expect.

I appreciate that there are many aspects of leadership but in this blog, I will focus on one aspect of programme leadership that is often overlooked – focusing on the big picture.

A programme will consist of many sub-projects and workstreams. These will in turn have, in some cases, hundreds if not thousands of tasks, milestones, risks, issues, etc.

I have seen a number of programmes fail because the programme manager tries to understand every aspect of the programme.

They dive into detail on all the sub-projects and try and understand every aspect.

This is a mistake. On all but the smallest of programmes there is too much information to be able to absorb everything. The programme manager does, however, need to focus on key aspects of the underlying projects.

The programme manager needs to work with the project managers and assess which milestones, risk and issues will have a wider impact if the milestone goes late or a risk becomes an issue.

For example, if a milestone in project x gets delayed and it only affects the project that it is in, then the programme manager needs to let the project manager manage this themselves.

If, however, the milestone delay has a ripple effect and affects the wider programme then this is something that the programme manager must track, and work with the project manager to take corrective action as soon as possible.

The same philosophy should apply to risks. If a risk becomes an issue and its impact can be contained in the project, then this should be managed by the project manager.

However, if the risk has a wider impact on the overall programme then the programme manager needs to track this and work with the project manager to take remedial action as soon as possible.


If the programme manager tries to understand every aspect of the programme he or she will drown in detail and will not focus on the important aspects that need focus.

It is all about being able to see the ‘wood for the trees’, and direct attention to critical areas of the programme.

The danger of trying to understand every aspect of the programme is that you miss the real areas that require attention.

Focusing on the big picture and taking a top-down view of the programme will help you deliver your programme successfully.


our PPM tool, PM3, is designed by practitioners for practitioners. It supports the philosophy described in this blog.

Risks, Issues and milestones can be promoted or escalated from the project to the programme level enabling the programme manager to see in real time if these critical aspects of the programme are delayed or become an issue.

For more information on our simple but scaleable PPM tool, please contact us on


Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

About the author

The author - David Walton

David Walton - I am David Walton, Programme, Project and Portfolio Management specialist and director of Bestoutcome here in the UK. We make the PMO tools PM3, PM3time and PM3NHS, the only PMO tools designed by practitioners for practitioners.

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