What’s the Different Between a Program or Project?

A common quesiton I’m often asked is “What’s the difference between a program and a project?” or “What’s the difference between a program manager and a project manager?”

And although nobody has ever asked the question here on this blog it goes through my mind every time I write on the subject of managing projects or product releases. My official title is Principal Technical Program Manager, but I really think of myself as a project manager. Everything I work on is a project of one sort or another and my job is to move those projects forward.

There are many technical definitions here and people often like to geek out on different terms. I don’t really care.

Technically a project is an effort that has a fixed duration and then it is over. For example, an IT department might have a project to install a new ERP system. Once the project is over (though anyone who has worked on an ERP projects knows, they are never over) the project is complete.

A program usually refers to a series of ongoing projects or product release cycles. And so a program manger is usually responsible for multiple programs or ongoing projects. This is very common in software development where a product goes through multiple development and release cycles. And so this ongoing process is referred to as a program because it is ongoing, instead of a project that has a definite beginning and end.

For the purposes of the things I write here, I intentionally take on the generic term “project manager” because I think it is a term that is more familiar to people.

Meetings Aren’t For Collecting Status

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One of the compliments I received a few weeks ago was an appreciation for my efficient meetings. I was never sure if anyone noticed or cared. In this spirit, when I kicked of my first program meeting with the Red Hat Ceph team last week this is the essence of how I introduced my style of meetings,

I move quickly and I don’t mess around. If I move too quickly, slow me down or create a new topic for discussion at the bottom of the shared document.

In general, I don’t use meetings to collect status. Meetings are to make decisions, resolve problems, and coordinate next actions.

I err on the side of assuming that each person here knows what they are doing and are getting it done. I also assume that if neither of these things is true you’ll contact me privately, get help from somewhere or raise it here.

Make sense? Any questions?

There weren’t any questions.

The first meeting finished 15 minutes early so I scheduled the next one for 45 minutes instead of an hour.  That might not work, but I’m going to see if it’s possible on a regular basis.

Say Thank You and Make it Personal

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I recently changed positions at Red Hat, more on that in my February goals post.

After sending a short email to the teams I’d been working with announcing this change, I received a few personal emails back. I was really touched by people who thanked me and even more so by people who told me something specific they appreciated about working with me.

Some of the responses surprised me while others confirmed things I’d worked hard to do, but wasn’t always sure they were appreciated. It was touching and meant a lot to me and to hear these things. I realized what a simple, but effective gesture this is.

The next time someone I work with announces that they are leaving I’m going to do the same thing–wish them well and tell them something I appreciated about them.

February 2015 Goals

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January 2015 was supposed to be all about restarting. It felt more of like a month of “re-failing.” I suppose the good news is that I was more active towards completing my goals than I was in December, but I did not reach any of the levels I set.

I didn’t think my January goals were unrealistic considering that I had accomplished most of them them before. And then life happens, flu and colds go around, disruptive change happens, fatigue sets in, and accomplishing those goals without physical energy and drive feels impossible.

January Goal Recap

  • Morning routine starting every day at 5:30 a.m. or earlier
    • Hit about 50% them, but several days it was clear my body just needed extra rest
  • YAYOG workouts at least every other day (no more than one day off between workouts)
    • Better than December, far worse than November
    • Difficult to maintain with huge energy deficits and other distractions
    • Be less all-or-nothing in the future by something even if it is really easy
  • Evening routine
    • Hit about 25% of them
    • Was not disciplined in making sure they got done or that I planned ahead to make sure they would get done
  • At least 10 blog posts
    • I didn’t do an exact count but I think I only did half of these. I think I’ll come close to this goal, but once again lack of planning and scheduling time was a culprit.

A New Job

One lingering item, in process from December, is that I changed roles at my company. I’m still with Red Hat (10 years and counting) and moved back to the Engineering Program Management team. I’m excited to dig back into a completely new product set in one of the newer business units in engineering–Storage. Ultimately I’m responsible for guiding and tracking the engineering product releases of Ceph and Gluster. I’ve spent the past four or more years working on OpenShift–first as program manager and then as a product marketing manager.

The opportunity to return to program management came out of no where. It required a sizable investment of time and emotional energy to meet with people on the product team and do my own soul searching as to whether it was the right next step for me. I’m confident it is, though I know it’s a decision that didn’t make sense to everyone.

February Goals

For February I’m considering working from a physical checklist each day. I’ve printed out a piece of paper that has boxes for each day and each thing I want to accomplish in a given day. I hope to review this page as part of my morning and evening routines and hope that by consistently reviewing it that will keep these things at the front of my mind and give them a better chance of getting done.

For a while I’ve had eliminating caffeine on my list of potential monthly challenges. I’m not ready remove that magic first cup of coffee in the morning, I’m reducing the amount of caffeine. I also want to drink more water and will increase the amount of water I drink first thing. I’ve found I have more energy on the days I drink a lot of water (lots–not just an extra glass).

Here are my specific February 2015 goals:

  • 5 a.m. morning routine–one day rest
  • 44 oz of water first thing (twice what I’m drinking now)
  • Morning coffee 1/2 decaf
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day (walking or YAYOG)–no more than two rest days in a row
  • 20 minutes writing blog posts
  • 15 minutes sorting or removing clutter from our house
  • Go outside every day for at least 15 minutes
  • Clean off my desk at the end of every day
  • Evening routine
  • In bed by 9:30 p.m.

I expect to have some missed days and rest days, but I’d like to be as consistent as I can. We’ll see if tracking and recording my progress each day provides any additional benefits or incentives.

Tell Me How Much You Value My Feedback by Responding

The online marketing space is interesting to say the least. Today I’m particularly thinking of people with podcasts and to a lesser extent blogs.

In a time when authenticity and trust are key to building relationships I’m surprised at the lack of follow-through or consistency. I don’t understand how you can proclaim in every email or podcast that you “want to hear from people” and how valuable you are to them, but when you contact them or make an episode suggestion as they’ve requested you don’t hear anything back.

Occasionally I put people to the test by sending an email or filling out a contact form when someone makes these requests. It’s my test of how genuine they are. I can’t seem to find any rhyme or reason to who writes back.

I learned a valuable lesson at a conference last year–the warmth and friendliness someone projects behind a microphone is not necessarily who they are in person or maybe even who they are when they aren’t podcasting. One conversation I had with a well known podcaster was downright awkward.

The person that continues to blow my mind in this space is Chris Brogan. I have never had him not return an my email. He must get a bazillion emails a day, particularly because he constantly asks people to write to him and tell him what is going on AND because he writes back.

Chris must have some special system that works for him. He doesn’t do the support@crapidontread.com email address that goes to a ticketing system because he makes it simple, “Just reply to this email. I want to hear from you. I’ll write back.”  And he does!

The most consistent red flag I see is stuff like,

Tell us what you thought of this episode by sending email to support@someonewhowillneverwriteyouback.com. Suggest a topic for a future show or leave your thoughts. We value our listeners and will address your question on our next episode.

First the “support” email alias is impersonal. I’m not writing to you for “support.” Is your operation really that big that you need a ticketing system to keep everything organized?

Second it gives the appearance that you’ve “outsourced” the interactions you say value most. With one popular podcaster, I filed a variety of tickets and multiple interactions with the person manning the support tickets. Some of the interactions were so lame I seriously wondered how their show and business was doing as well as it made itself out to be.

It was frustrating to feel that there was no real way to actually reach this person who had put themselves out there as being available and wanting to interact with their listeners.