Program Management

Program Managers’ Toolbox

Introduction: In Part II of this deep dive into program management, Director Carla Walker shares how program managers make decisions for their organizations, including what factors they consider and what tools they have at their disposal. Decision-making is a make/break component for any organization and program managers are surgical in their approach to achieve the best outcome for their teams and the client. Watch below or read the transcript.


If I were to rank our services, I would say oversight and maintenance is one of our biggest responsibilities as PMs. It’s always a big deal when the contract is awarded. Celebration occurs, but then what happens? After the initial transition phase. The contract will then go into O& M. This is a critical phase of the contract because this is when an organization relies on building past performance in order for them to receive more contracts.Organizations must maintain a great reputation with the agencies they are doing business with to stand out in a saturated market.

It is the PM’s job to manage in accordance with these principles: scope, time, and budget. Sounds simple, right? As part of the O& M phase, the program manager must always have these three principles top of mind. I sometimes refer to these principles as levers, because when one is manipulated, the other two will also be impacted. What does that really mean?

Here are a few real world examples that you all may relate to on a program and or a contract you have previously supported. The first scenario, the client defunded a contract line item number at time of award, which ultimately affected the resources you had to support the effort. For this exercise, people will be translated to money, i. e. that budget. That’s not to say, PMs should not be compassionate and consider resources as people. Since the budget was reduced, the PM has to think creatively to be successful with the limitation in resources. Should the PM work everyone 10 times harder? Absolutely not. What are the other levers that can be adjusted?

In this example, the PM worked with the sponsoring agency to evaluate if anything in scope can be eliminated or delayed. This is that time lever. The client stated the final deadline was set and we had to deliver by that time. So what did the PM do in this example? They broke down the work in smaller iterations in order to utilize the limited resources effectively. Since timeline and budget was defined, the only other lever that could be adjusted was scope.

My next scenario includes there’s a new version of a system that will be rolled out by the vendor. Let’s say it’s a big upgrade to a CRM your company uses. This change would impact thousands of users and the team was not prepared to support this large change. This happens so often in organizations now that we are becoming so dependent on vendor products. We are at the mercy of the vendor when it comes to upgrades.

In this scenario, the scope is defined, accept the upgrade, and roll it out to the impacted parties. The time is defined because we don’t have a say when the vendor releases a new upgrade, so neither scope or time can be, can be manipulated in this example. The only other lever that the program team can change is budget. For this scenario, the organization needs to react quickly and throw more money to resources. to help successfully implement the solution.

During the O& M phase, the PM is constantly evaluating and refining these three principles until the close of a contract or project.

Missed Part 1? Watch Here.

About the Author

Carla Walker

With 20 years of experience, Carla is a leader among peers with a proven record of project management success. Her experience includes leading over 50 business and technology projects using both agile and waterfall methods, with budgets exceeding $5 million, stakeholders of 100+, supporting 20+applications, and timelines exceeding 5 years, working in the financial and educational technology industry. In addition to her PMP, Carla is also a certified ScrumMaster. She also holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Maryland.