Planning, budgeting, scheduling, status checking, action item tracking.

Is this how you view your job as a product development program manager? If it is, you’re missing a big part of your job, and you could be on a path to failure. You have a much more important role.

It’s leadership.

For a product development program manager, leadership means engaging in the specific behaviors that:

  • Ensure alignment
  • Establish accountability
  • Remove obstacles

If you want to hit your program’s schedule, performance, and cost targets, you can’t just administer the program, you must lead it.

Ensure Alignment

For your program to succeed, you must keep all the program’s stakeholders on the same page. Everyone that touches your program must have a common understanding of the objectives, status, priorities, and issues.

Since capital equipment product development is forever on the edge of chaos, it will take a herculean communications effort on your part to keep stakeholders aligned.

It’s not enough for you to be an effective communicator. You also need to ensure that the program team and program stakeholders are communicating their plans, needs, and issues to each other.

This requires high frequency, consistent communication that engages all program stakeholders on a regular basis. Some mechanisms include:

  • Weekly program team reviews
  • Monthly management reviews
  • Weekly email flash reports to all stakeholders

In each cover success criteria, schedule, and budget. That way you’ll always get an integrated view of what will be done, when it will be done, and how much it will cost. Anytime your communication exposes misalignment get the relevant stakeholders together immediately to resolve it.

Establish Accountability

Getting new capital equipment products to market fast requires a synchronized effort from a cross-functional program team. Members of this team must be held accountable for the program’s success.

Make it clear from the start exactly what is expected from each team member, including:

  • Overall program goals and objectives
  • Specific deliverables and timing
  • Expected behavior

You also have to also create a team culture where those that achieve the most get rewarded the most. And those that fail to produce face consequences. You cannot be a pushover.

Finally the old adage, “What’s inspected, not what’s expected actually gets done” holds true. Setting expectations is not enough. You need to establish a regular heartbeat of checkpoints to make sure the team is performing as they should.

Remove Obstacles

Once you’ve clarified team member expectations, you must remove any obstacles that keep the team from meeting them.

This doesn’t mean that team members can just dump all their problems on you and absolve themselves of accountability. Instead you need to insist that team members identify their top success barriers on a regular basis. With each barrier, they need to articulate their plan to remove it including where they need help.

For those barriers where your help is needed, you make it a priority, and you remove them quickly. Most often you’ll be called on resolve resource conflicts, cut through red-tape, and make trade-off decisions.

When your team sees you taking ownership for ensuring their success, it will reinforce their own sense of accountability and develop confidence that the program’s goals can be achieved.

You can’t let yourself get so consumed with the program administration that you neglect program leadership. If you do, you’re likely to fail. The best program managers commit a substantial portion of their time to ensuring alignment, establishing accountability, and removing obstacles to success.