I recently read a nice article on the virtues of Top-Down Program Management vs Bottoms-Up Program Management and it got me thinking on how these two different styles can co-exist in today’s world of digital transformation program implementations. Advantages and Disadvantages of Top-Down Program Management “Top-down” means that all the program objectives, guidelines, information, plans, and fund processes are established by management, and expectations are communicated down to each program participant. This approach requires extreme process formality, as any ambiguity can easily result in misunderstandings and program failure. The advantages of a top-down management approach are that the direction and activities of a company are focused on a specific set of objectives and goals and, because all of the company’s operational plans are derived from its strategic plan, it is easier to identify and correct any weak points in carrying out the plans. The downside of this approach, in its purest form, can lead to a disheartened teams who feels that their thoughts and opinion don’t count which could lead to team members just shutting down their creativity and openness and just becoming task executors.  In the worst cases this approach can cause bottlenecks and result in reduced productivity. When program managers have total control over teams, they can cause lockdowns that lead to unnecessary frustration and stress and can significantly slow down a program’s completion. Advantages and Disadvantages of Bottoms-Up Program Management The bottom-up style allows managers to communicate goals and value through milestone planning, and team members are encouraged to develop personal to-do lists with the steps necessary to reach the milestones on their own. The team decides which methods they’ll use to perform their tasks. A clear advantage of this approach is that it empowers team members to think more creatively. The downsides to this approach is that it sometimes lacks clarity and control. Another big deterrent is the lack of insight this approach might have to the integration points within an overarching program or more importantly how an individual project fits into the big picture of the vision and strategic initiatives of the organization. The best way is to find a balance between the two opposite approaches and take the best practices from each. Finding Middle Ground As Program Leaders we need to strike a balance between the vision and strategic plans of the organization, how a particular digital transformation initiative which we are asked to lead will impact the organization’s strategic plans, and how to build a program culture that allows creativity and ownership on how that digital transformation initiative is delivered. And in my opinion that starts with your project managers and providing a platform for implementation success. Your Project Managers With your project managers there has to be a shift in mindset from “task masters” to “servant leaders” for their individual projects within your digital transformation program.  Gone are the days where a project manager goes and creates a schedule and sends out emails to their team to “go do this” and then sends out further emails to find out “did you do that?” or “when are you going to be done?” to update their project plan on an island. Instead, your project managers, who should have a complete understanding of the strategic value their project has to organization’s vision and strategic plan, should work with their team to educate them on the importance of the project in terms of the organizations strategic plan, and then collaborate with them on how to deliver the project to meet those objectives.  This approach will engage the team to be creative in terms of defining the big blocks (or deliverables) that need to be part of the plan and help determine the building blocks (or work packages) necessary to build those big blocks.  Then together you all determine “whats it going to take?” to build each one of those building blocks. Once that is done, you need to let your project manager do their thing and build a plan that incorporates everything the team put together and provides an outcome that meets the objectives of the project, plus any and all  directives surrounding the triple constraint (scope, time, budget) as well as the over-arching program.  When the project manager has a draft of the plan that meets those conditions they then go back to their teams and show them the results of their inputs into the process.  There might be a few iterations at this point making sure that all voices have been heard, while at the same time, providing the reminders of the strategic goals and importance of this specific initiative.  I have personally used this type of approach on my programs and projects and it truly exemplifies a “Win-Win” for all parties involved. This approach serves many purposes:
  • Early on education on the strategic importance of your project
  • Instant engagement with your team because you involved them in the laying out the building blocks of the entire project
  • Instant ownership of the plan from your team because it is based on the data they provided to the plan
  • A rock solid plan that meets all the individual project’s and over-arching program objectives
This is the start of turning your project manager from a task master to a servant leader. A Platform for Implementation Success You need to provide to your project teams one platform in which to collaborate on every aspect of your program including:
  • Organization Strategic Goals and Objectives (and the linkages of your program to these goals and objectives)
  • Project planning and iterative execution engagement
  • Building blocks content gathering and approval
  • Automated program integration workflows to help tie all the pieces of your project together, as well as, the interlocking amongst projects within the overall program
  • Risks, Actions, Issues and Decision (RAID) management
  • Process definition
  • Data definition, governance and management
  • Organization Transformation
  • Testing
  • Defect Resolution
  • Deployment
By providing an integrated platform with these types of capabilities you are instantly providing your team members with the tools necessary to collaborate within their teams, within your program, and within your organization.  And instead of the teams relying on their project managers to connect the dots on the tens of thousands of integration points on a large scale digital transformation initiative, the platform will connect the dots for them with intelligent workflow messages and follow on instructions. The additional benefit of having a platform such as this is that it frees up your project managers from being “task masters” and “auditors” to being value-added “servant leaders”.   They can facilitate team communications and provide a creative working environment. Your project managers becomes visionaries themselves and communicators of the vision, able to leverage the team strengths and weaknesses, and adjust the project development based on any internal or external changes. Individual team members still have the freedom and the ability to creatively solve the problems surrounding the building blocks, but the project manager is now better able to help guide each team member. Finally, the project manager can serve their team, removing their obstacles to success, coaching them on what it takes to get to their next level, engaging in powerful and meaningful dialogue to help deliver the objectives of their project–together! At Platinum PMO we are putting the final touches on such a platform and are on schedule for our first public release in early 2019.  Like Uber is to taxis and Airbnb is hotels, we truly feel that our Digital Transformation Implementation platform is a disrupter for anyone embarking on a digital transformation initiative.  Come check us out to learn more.