What does a program manager do?

Telecom investment in network functions virtualization and software-defined networking is growing 116 percent annually, according to Technology Business Research, but what does that investment look like in practice? 

If you're also in the midst of developing SDN services, you've probably launched at least a dozen projects associated with the endeavor. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who defines the overall roadmap and oversees the execution of those projects? 
  • Have you instituted a process that ensures project results support your strategic objectives? 

If you answered "yes" to both of these questions, chances are you've got some sort of program management strategy in place. But what is program management? How can it help you develop and deploy SDN services? 

Explaining Program Management

Program management entails supporting multiple projects which share a collective goal. With respect to telecoms, that collective goal may be implementing an SDN service. An organization can have several programs occurring at once. Just like related projects are grouped under a single program, a series of connected programs may be a part of a single portfolio

A portfolio consists of all the tasks related to a wider business endeavor. For example, if your goal is to release an SDN service to enterprise consumers, you may have different programs that address the following needs:

Let's take a closer look at the projects associated with provisioning and enabling an SDN service. One project focuses on developing a service monitoring function. Another is dedicated toward building a service provisioning tool, and a third concentrates on building automated, usage-based billing. All of these projects are dependent on each other.

In order to function properly, the automated billing feature must receive reliable data from the service monitoring microservice. If the team responsible for developing the service monitoring component encounters a bug, the folks working on the automated billing feature will likely experience an issue associated with that code flaw.

It's up to the person leading the program – typically known as the Product Owner – to both anticipate that such issues will occur and implement strategies to mitigate those problems. 

This is a pretty specific example of what a Product Owner would do, but from a holistic perspective, the Product Owner applies his or her knowledge, skills tools and techniques to ensure a program meets the stakeholder's requirements.

"Product Owners ensure programs support stakeholder objectives."

The Big Picture 

The main purpose of a program management strategy is to ensure the program in question aligns with a stakeholder's business goals. Let's use SDN as an example to describe how this works.

Before developers so much as touch the keyboard, the Product Owner, Project Leads and other parties responsible for implementing the SDN solution meet with the stakeholders. Those stakeholders may be senior business analysts, the CEO or other individuals who have said, "This is what the market wants, this is what we need to deliver that." 

In response to stakeholder demands, the Product Owners and other parties propose a solution designed to meet those demands. In this example, they create a framework for an SDN system. The framework defines the scope of the program (i.e. what will be delivered), the program's timeline and the resources required to execute that program. 

Dozens of factors may set a scope off course. Effective program management minimizes those factors and ensures that all program participants deliver a solution designed to meet the stakeholder's strategic objectives. If there are any signs that the program may deviate from the intended course, the Product Owner takes corrective action. 

As a whole, program management ensures that stakeholders receive what they paid for. It doesn't help to deliver a technically beautiful SDN solution that doesn't do what a business needs it to.