An Introduction to Program Management

Eternally confused about what PgM is all about? Here’s your primer.

An Introduction to Program Management

By Brandie Hienel

Before we dive into an introduction of what Program Management (PgM) is at Gojek, let us first clarify what the function — and role of a Program Manager — is focused on.

Here is a definition of the function by Program Management Institute:

A program is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated manner to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually. Program management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet program requirements. A Program Manager leads a set of interconnected projects to help transform a business objective into reality.

We’re not the only ones to embrace Program Management. It is a function that thrives in many successful companies that operate at (international) scale. You may have heard of a few of them — Google, Apple, Facebook, Stripe, and Asana.

But what does a Program Manager do?

While the scope and span of the role can vary based on the specific team and group, generally speaking, a PgM will:

  • Create a scalable and enduring set of processes that outlast their tenure embedded in a specific function or product area.
  • Partner with business counterparts to identify, prioritise, and execute their business strategy.
  • Act as a bridge across functions / groups / locations.
  • Promote a mindset and practices that improve the quality, speed, and efficiency of planning and execution.

The Backstory

Gojek has experienced explosive growth since the launch of our app in 2015, and expanded significantly over the past few years to new geographies — Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore — besides running engineering centres in Bangalore and Gurugram in India. This rapid growth led the Gojek leadership team to initiate a pilot in 2018 with a small group of Program Managers to better help the decentralised team accomplish strategic goals.

The experiment was a success! The Program Management beta team built and oversaw programs that delivered scalable results via coordination, collaboration, and communication across multiple functions within Gojek in a brief span of time. These beta PgM’s avoided increased organisational chaos while balancing fast iteration and a laser focus on prioritisation.

As the value of a Program Management function had been clearly established to the leadership team and the greater organisation, the Program Management function was officially formed in 2019.

The mandate was clear: focus on building and supporting the growing Gojek team to help them achieve business, product, and personal goals.

Interesting, right? Here’s an example of the scale at which this function operates:

A recent PgM initiative that will ultimately impact the lives of many GoTroops is a program nicknamed ‘The Elegant Puzzle’ (a nod to tech author Will Larson’s book on engineering management). It was focused on the design and roll-out plan of a new career growth matrix and organisational structure in engineering. The Job Architecture and Career Ladder (J.A.C.A., for short) was introduced to the Engineering org to provide the team with role clarity and an actionable career roadmap. The job ladder is also the foundation for leveling, hiring, performance assessment, promotions, compensation & benefits, and more.

The PgM worked with cross-function collaborators to conduct a discovery to define the scope of the program. From there, the PgM created a rollout plan, defined risk strategy, facilitated the design of the feedback loop, and aligned with the Engineering leadership and Gojek’s People and Culture team to strategically initiate the program for all engineers at Gojek.

In short, Program Managers at Gojek connect the dots between the teams working on transformational projects, initiatives, and programs.

The goal? Ensure that everyone has what they need to succeed.

What makes a great Program Manager?

The qualities inherent in a stellar Program Manager are a mix of hard and soft skills. The mindset of a PgM strikes a balance between both sides of the brain; the left (creative) and the right (logic). They work in harmony to allow not only the creation of highly-detailed and impactful programs, but the ability to positively and efficiently gain consensus with the variety of people required to implement the plan.

Here are a few highlights of the types of traits in an awesome Program Manager:

  • You are organised, efficient, and detail-oriented. You manage your time efficiently, and use tools to help others do the same. You obsessively record decisions, follow up on action items, and create easy-to-digest documentation. You tend to foresee edge cases in technical specs and identify risks before they become too painful to address.
  • Communication is your superpower. You have a passion for connecting people to the information and processes that make them feel taken care of. People know that you have things under control, whether it’s keeping people on the same page across multiple continents, or coordinating a sensitive launch with multiple department heads. You can express complicated situations to people who have no idea what you’re talking about and can lay out the hard truths without causing an uproar.
  • You are extraordinarily mindful and self-aware. You are an active listener and have deep empathy for the people around you. You are tuned into their motivations and worries, and you use that understanding to compassionately help them overcome obstacles. It’s intuitive for you to read signals that help you decide when to follow up, and when to give space to others. You seek to understand both the business’ point of view and the technical constraints that keep your engineers up at night. You know your strengths, but you own your mistakes and know when to ask for help.
  • Your passion for process is grounded in pragmatism. You naturally find repeatable patterns and transform them into reusable workflows for everyone else. But you reject the idea of having a process for process’ sake — your goal is to find ways to make things run more efficiently, and sometimes that means changing (or killing) a process.
  • You are balanced and well-rounded. On this team, you’re expected to be a big-picture thinker and strategic partner. But you’re also willing to get your hands dirty and do whatever it takes to help your team deliver high-quality work against tight deadlines. You’re passionate about using your combined technical, software engineering, and business process acumen to deliver good solutions.
  • You are not fazed by ambiguity and pressure. Conversely, you embrace the opportunity to translate chaos into excellence. You patiently and confidently weave threads of confusion into clear and actionable steps. You inspire confidence and calmness in the face of uncertainty, and you shield your team members from the storm so that they can focus on execution.

The roadmap ahead

Gojek’s journey to create positive socio-economic impact and delight all our stakeholders is still going at full steam. This means our Program Management team will continue to grow in order to contribute our expertise to the mission. What this also means, is that we will continue to have exciting opportunities in our team. If you are interested in joining the Program Management team at Gojek, bookmark and keep an eye on our open roles.