Program Directors: Bridging business and design

Patti Alderman

I recently read an article about most important design jobs of the future.  You can imagine my delight to see Program Director as one of the nominated roles! There is one catch.. I think Program Leadership is a design job of the present. I agree with the sentiments about the role in the article, but I would go further. To me, Program Directors are experts in managing and delivering complex programs of work, which blend both design and technology.

As design plays more of a key role in business, clients want design partners not one-off projects. They want design delivered.

Clients are looking to scale their digital programs with focus on the customer or employee experience, and Program Directors are uniquely placed to help design the organisational structure (see what I did there?) to ensure their vision can be delivered. Program Directors oversee these programs and provide the forum for clients to prioritise based on business objectives, bringing dependencies to light, as well as manage the complexity of the various stakeholder relationships.

However, this takes a particular type of program leadership. Traditional technical PMs struggle with the flexibility required to manage visionary and creative projects. Can you imagine the conversation between designer and project manager….“You will have a brilliant idea today. Its on the workplan!!!”

Conversely, many agency PMs struggle with managing the scaled delivery of massive programs of work, let alone the intricacy of legacy systems and inflight projects.   The brilliant Program Director is able to understand both worlds, bringing them together under one framework to deliver for clients. Design-centric Program Directors empathise with clients and articulate the complexity businesses find themselves (future meets legacy) whilst helping them to navigate the change.

As a matter of fact, it IS happening now. At Fjord, we recently helped a large Pharma client establish the program framework and operating model to manage their digital and innovation programs – from research, concept and test through to delivery. Using our design methodology, design and program came together to establish a set of parameters to qualify, monitor and deliver programs. The work didn’t minimise the importance of design and customer/employee experience. In fact, it highlighted those principles to ensure the business objectives were not compromised and the brilliant design output could be bottled, and most importantly scaled.

The partnership of design and program won out in the end result providing the client with a structure that allowed the natural curiosity and test/learn approach of service design to be delivered at pace. Rinse and repeat.

Program Directors understand change is difficult, but not impossible. We also understand that the future is now, and tomorrow will be too late. Which reminds me..  I think Program Director is a design job of TODAY.

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Patti and her team

Patti Alderman

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