Three reasons why agility is a powerful instrument in the program manager’s toolkit

When it comes to program management, agility is as much about meeting evolving client needs as managing the unexpected. 

At Surespan , we often cite agility as being a key attribute of a successful program management (PgM) model. We define PgM as being a disciplined, systematic approach to orchestrating resources to plan, design, construct, and deliver a collection of projects in a coordinated way to obtain benefits for the owner not attainable if managed separately. When we talk about agility in terms of PgM however, we are thinking about the PgM model itself, and how it should be molded closely to program and client requirements. It is also a mindset that program leaders must possess when applying that model to delivering a defined client outcome.

Agility defined

Major infrastructure delivery programs of work are usually complex. An off-the-shelf, prescribed PgM model rarely works well. Without fully understanding a client’s needs, and expectations and establishing desired outcomes right from the very start, it is hard to build a responsive PgM model that can flex as the program moves through planning, design, and construction, through to effective operations and maintenance. Pre-planning is an essential step in this process, however, program set-up and implementation must allow for and anticipate change.

The delivery of long-term programs of work rarely goes just as planned, often running into funding issues or other delays, and the program leadership team must be agile enough to manage these uncertainties to minimize the impact on program delivery and cost. This involves understanding the critical issues, assessing them quickly, and recommending a solid course of action, as well as reading the leading indicators and pivoting the program team (from the client down) to the shifting conditions. A focus on maintaining the vision is essential throughout.

Agility in practice

Our PgM model is agile and enables us to:

Call on subject matter experts

Integrating the depth and range of our global technical strength and capabilities to bring programmatic solutions to our clients’ big infrastructure delivery challenges is an integral part of our PgM capability and approach.

Our SMEs support the program team to identify various options that could be evaluated and/or implemented to keep the program moving forward when the original design-builder departed the program.

Scale up or scale down

As program managers, we understand that the program will evolve and that resources need to scale up and down, so getting the right level of staffing at the right time is critically important. 

The ability to implement such a rapid scale-up was due largely to keeping the leadership team well informed of the needs so that each key partner could assign staff to support the overall deployment.

Retool as needed

Understanding program requirements is critical along with working ‘hand in glove’ with client leadership to slot the right program leaders in at the right time along the program lifecycle.

Agility is as much about adjusting the team to respond to program and client needs as understanding that the program will be led at different times by different disciplines and being able to transition seamlessly between them. To do this effectively, it’s important to stay focused on delivery and anticipate requirements.

Our agile PgM model has been key in elevating our offer from initial services to program solutions. 

Ultimately, however, no matter what and where the program is, the first step is always to understand the client’s greatest needs, expectations, and political ramifications and define the desired outcomes. Many may tout agility, but that alone is not enough: the program team must understand how to pivot and implement the best PgM model and options available. 

This only works if the client and program team are aligned and adhere to the three ‘Cs’ – communicate, cooperate and collaborate for the program’s success.