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Exploring Project versus Program Management: Stay Sharp Episode 30

In Episode 30 of Razorleaf’s Stay Sharp podcast, hosts Jonathan Scott and Jen Ferello tackle the difference between project management and program management, specifically for manufacturing. Their guest is Dave Opsahl, CEO of Actify, a company that enables manufacturers to visualize and engage with their digital product data. In Manufacturing Program Management vs. Projects with Dave Opsahl, Jonathan, Jen, and Dave discuss the challenges of program management for manufacturers, the parallels between Actify’s program management software and PLM platforms, and how program management software can help manufacturers handle the growing experience gap.

The trio begins by assuring listeners that the topic is appropriate for companies and individuals across a broad range of industries. Dave explains that in Actify’s early days, the company surveyed customers to find out what they wanted in a program management platform. The surprising results showed them that though his company thought customers’ needs were all unique, nearly every customer was attempting to do the same thing. Further, as the years went on, Dave says, “It turned out to be a pretty interesting learning experience around program management. Some of the things that automotive suppliers were struggling with are representative of any program-based industry, whether you’re talking Aerospace & Defense, industrial machinery, medical devices—all of those that really have that program element to them.” Jonathan agrees, “Anywhere there is some sort of OEM vendor, supplier, network, supply chain, this topic is very relevant.”

Defining Program Management

Jen gets down to basics by asking Dave to define program management and how it’s different than project management. Fundamentally, program is a bigger scope, he says. “When I think about the program, I’m thinking about everything that’s required from the delivery of raw material at the bottom of the supply chain all the way up to finished parts arriving just in time at the point of assembly. It isn’t just about the design of the thing that has to be built, it’s about the procurement side of it, it’s about the quality assurance side of it. It’s all the pieces. Program covers all of those points.”

He goes on to explain that inside that program, many different projects go on. Jen adds that while there can be many in-house projects within a single program, there are also likely to be multiple projects being run at suppliers’ shops as well—still all collectively part of a single program.

Program Management and the Digital Thread

Dave brings up the challenge of the digital thread, noting how hard it can be to keep the digital thread going when all of the components are disconnected in even a small project, let alone in the entire program. Fortunately, today’s technology, such as enterprise automation, can make it possible to have that necessary level of connectivity without the custom development that used to be required.

Jonathan expands on the idea of the digital thread of the product record, suggesting it includes everything that defines the product. He points out that many people—including himself—take an engineering-centric approach and think primarily about the CAD, the analysis, and the bill of materials. But, he says, “It’s also the context around it. It’s the decisions that get made. It’s the activities that came to those decisions. It’s the change and approval workflows, and comments people made along the way.”

Dave offers the example of a manufacturer needing to be able to trace where conflict minerals were sourced from. “That information needs to live along with everything related to the design of the product. If that stuff is siloed off in different systems, that’s where people start to run off the rails. You have no ability to do that tracing, figure out where it came from. Why not be able to connect that information and make it easy to access?” Actify was able to see their program management solution making it easier for people to connect that kind of information, Dave explains. “If you connect the way that people are managing the program to the actual work being done, instead of having it living in another system, now you can start to deliver a product that people can actually use. It gets to be a big deal.”

Learn More About Program Management Solutions

The full podcast episode offers many more details on the different perspectives PLM and program management platforms have on a digital product, case studies of program management success, and how a program management solution can even help some of your staffing and onboarding challenges.

But since Jen, Jonathan, and Dave didn’t finish their conversation this week, they agree to another conversation in the future about the amount and type of data in program versus project management, as well as some of the challenges of each. Stay tuned for that episode!

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