A great program manager can drive a more productive and effective team, whereas a bad manager will have your employees actively looking for their next job. That’s why, when seeking top program managers who will oversee various projects and teams, it’s necessary to ask questions that ensure they’ll have a positive impact on others, as well as an impact for the greater organization. Program managers oversee a wide range of projects, and manage the project managers who are in charge of those projects. They can span across many areas and functions from operational/technical program managers to people ops.
Top Program manager interview questions and answers
Since I first started working as a Program Manager, I have focused intently on improving my knowledge, my experience and also my ability to bring instant and sustainable value to my employer by managing and delivering difficult and challenging programs. Just some of the skills and qualities I can bring to your organization include, strong program management capabilities for projects of all sizes and complexities, knowledge of all useable program management methodologies and tools, and also the ability to see how my work is intrinsically linked to the commercial objectives of your organization. I am strategically driven and I will always focus on how I can add considerable value within my role as the Program Manager. I am also a strong communicator with excellent interpersonal skills, and I can be relied upon to manage a portfolio of projects, allocate resources effectively whilst also managing budgets responsibly. Finally, I want to be a Program Manager simply because it is a role I am immensely passionate about, it is a role I have in-depth experience in, and it is also a role I am confident I can succeed in. If you hire me as your Program Manager, I will be able to contribute quickly so that you start to see an immediate positive return on your investment.
As a Program Manager, I believe it’s important to choose your employer carefully. To be effective in the Program Manager role, you need a supportive senior management team, a robust and ambitious brief to work towards, and also a team that is entirely focused on achieving the goals that are set by the organization. Before applying for this Program Manager position, I carried out extensive research into the organization to make sure it was somewhere I wanted to work long-term, and also where I was certain I could contribute to your vision whilst also observing your values and ethics. Due to those reasons specifically, and also coupled with the fact you have a strong reputation within the industry and also with your customers and clients, I want to work for your company and establish myself as a reliable, productive and reputable Program Manager.
I think it’s important to understand that this type of situation has to be rectified quickly, in order to prevent any long lasting damage to the program, the team and the organization. As a Program Manager, I prefer to manage by giving people the autonomy and the responsibility to carry out their jobs and roles reliably and to the required standards. However, if the line is crossed and a team member fails to deliver or fails to live up to my expectations, then I will take decisive action. This includes, an initial conversation with the person being difficult to remind them of their responsibilities, and to also ascertain the reasons why they are either being difficult or underperforming. The next step would be to set a definitive timescale for improvement with clear steps of what they need to do in order to get back onboard with the team and the program quickly. It would then be down to me to monitor their performance and support them in their role to make sure they contribute effectively, as they should be doing, in their role.
SITUATION: In a previous Program Manager role, I was responsible for the output of a particular program that involved numerous projects and teams. Unfortunately, the client I was working for was hostile in his approach to the program, and it was not only extremely difficult to get hold of him when needed, but his attitude was unhelpful. Part way through the program, he changed certain elements of some project specifications, which made things even more challenging to overcome. Some members of the project teams were starting to show signs of stress and demotivation.
TASK: As a positive and determined Program Manager, it was my responsibility to take control, motivate the project teams and also steer things through to a successful resolution. I was determined not to let the program finish unsuccessfully, and I drew up a plan of action to steer the teams through the challenges.
ACTION: I started off by discussing the challenges with the various project team leaders and what was expected in terms of meeting the new specifications. I also advised on methods they could use in order to motivate the teams to keep them focused on the processes, the methodologies we should all implement to overcome the challenges, and also the new milestones for the completion of each project element. Throughout the remainder of the program, I kept in constant touch with the teams, analyzed and monitored performance and also adjusted actions as and when needed.
RESULT: Despite the numerous challenges along the way, through sheer determination, having a positive attitude and also reacting to problems as and when they occurred, we managed to complete the program successfully to the new specifications and set timeline.
SITUATION: I was attending an initial team briefing with project teams and stakeholders prior to starting work on an important program. Part way through the meeting, one of the stakeholders started to question why my approach to the program was, in his terms, overly cautious and not helpful to getting the program completed in the fastest time possible.
TASK: It was my job to explain to him how my approach to the program was important to not just to its overall success, but also to the reputation and strategic objectives of the organization.
ACTION: Throughout my response, I was professional, positive and I used practical examples of how not following the standards of program specification that I recommended, would be taking unnecessary risks and also putting the organization in danger of not meeting its strategic objectives.
RESULT: After carefully explaining in detail why I felt my approach was fully justified and in the best interests of the business, the stakeholder agreed that this was the best way forward. I believe I have strong communication and interpersonal skills and I am able to explain things with clarity, understanding and purpose when needed.
A competent program manager will need to have numerous skills and attributes to be successful. However, the most important ones are planning and execution. As a program manager you are ultimately responsible for delivering the program on time and within budget. The only way you can successfully achieve these goals is to plan thoroughly and execute the delivery of your plan. If you fail in these two areas, the client, or your employer, is let down and the consequences can be far reaching. In addition to planning effectively and the thorough execution of the plan, you also need to communicate effectively (both in writing and verbally), have outstanding motivational skills and interpersonal, be enthusiastic about the program, have a flexible approach to working, be a great negotiator, be unwavering in the face of adversity and challenges and also be confident in your own and your team’s abilities. I believe I have all of these skills and qualities and can be relied upon to deliver fantastic results, on budget and also on time.
One particular program immediately springs to mind. I was managing a program for a client who had specific requirements that continually changed. Every week they would change their mind on what they required, but I focused on completing the program successfully, on budget and on time whilst motivating the project teams. The program was particularly challenging because some members of the team did not like the client and were threatening to quit. I motivated the project teams continually and listened to their concerns as and when they raised any issues. I found that by communicating with the teams regularly, it helped them to stay focused on their particular project. I decided to discuss tactfully my concerns with the client. I felt it important to communicate with them how their indecision could potentially have a negative impact on the success of the overall program. Whilst I assured them it would be delivered, I felt it was my responsibility to inform them of the potential negative impact the indecision could have on the overall result. They took on board my comments and suggestions and thanked me for my honest feedback. The end result was that the program was delivered on time and to the satisfaction of the client. At the end of the program, I conducted a meeting with my team members and all discussed what we had learned from the program so that we could improve for next time. I always find an honest and open approach to managing projects and programs works well.
There are usually 5 different stages of the program management lifecycle. These are, the FORMULATION STAGE, where you clearly define the objectives of the program and what it is you want to achieve for the organization. The second part of the cycle is the ORGANIZATION STAGE – this consists of creating a blueprint or roadmap for how you are going to achieve the objectives of the program. At this stage you also determine the policies and procedures you want everyone to follow. The organization stage is absolutely crucial to the success of the remaining stages. The third stage is the DEPLOYMENT STAGE, where all projects and other elements of the program commence work in line with the policies and procedures. The nest stage is the APPRAISAL STAGE – this is where you evaluate the success of the program and the different operational elements therein. The final stage is DISOLUTION. This is where you finalize the program, complete testing and also measure the success of your actions overall.
One of the most important things for me, as a program manager, is clarity. Unless you gain total clarity at the start of the program, it is likely to fail at some stage down the line. So, as part of the program management life cycle, I will start off with the formulation phase. This is where I define the reason for the program, its objectives and its purpose. Once I have completed this stage of the life cycle, I can then move on to the planning stage and define the people, resources and finances needed to complete the work to the required standards and specification.
First and foremost, I would conduct regular appraisals and meetings with team leaders and members to find out their strengths, weaknesses and also what they needed to perform their duties to the standard required. I would also set deadlines and make my team stick to them religiously. I feel that, by applying deadlines for work to be completed, teams are more likely to develop successful habits and complete work on time. Finally, I also think it is very important to reward and praise teams when they work well. Again, by simply praising your staff, they are more likely to work hard for you and achieve the goals of the company.
There was one particular program I was involved in that didn’t go well, but it is also perhaps the one that I learned the most from. I was part of a team of six people who were tasked with delivering a timesensitive project for an important client. Because there was not much time to complete the project, the initial brief and task allocation delivered by the program manager was inadequate, in my opinion. This obviously had a knock-on effect whereby important milestones were missed. In the end the client abandoned the project and I felt quite embarrassed having been part of the team that failed. However, I took a tremendous amount from that experience and I always use it now as a reminder of what not to do. Whenever I am managing a program or project, I will always conduct a thorough brief based on my program management plan, allocate tasks to people who I can trust and also who will do the job for me, and I always hold regular team meetings to monitor progress. If things are not going to plan, I will always take decisive action quickly and put things in place to get them back on track and to specification.
In a previous role, I had just started managing a team when I noticed a member of staff was missing deadlines and appeared to have a lackadaisical attitude to their work. I immediately held a meeting with them to raise my concerns and to also get to the route of the problem. My aim was to resolve the issue as soon as possible and put a plan in place to get them back working to the required standard. After speaking to them for a few minutes, it became apparent they were having serious problems at home. I decided that the best approach here would be to demonstrate empathy, provide support and also to agree a plan with them to get them back to full working capacity. I discussed with them some options for obtaining counselling, for which they were open to. I also agreed with them that we would hold a weekly meeting to assess how they were feeling and to also assess the plan we had created to get them back to full working capacity. Overall, it took 4 weeks for me to get them back to where they were prior to their personal problems. I felt this was a success, as we got to the route of the problem quickly which enabled me to create a supportive plan that enabled them to start feeling better as soon as possible.
My style of communication is always open, honest and encouraging. I believe that, by having an open and encouraging style of communication, my team will discuss with me any issues and potential problems, which will in turn allow us to deliver the program on time and to specification. Of course, there are times when a limited communication style is required, especially when we are operating to an extremely tight deadline. However, wherever possible, I always encourage open, honest and frank discussions where the team feel they can communicate with me at any time.
I would motivate a team in 3 ways.
- Through a thorough brief at the start of the program;
- By laying out the required standards of the program from the get go;
- By communicating with them and also supporting them periodically throughout the program lifecycle.
I feel a thorough brief at the start of the program that lays out the plan and key tasks is essential. If everyone knows their role, then it is far more likely to be a success and the team will feel motivated throughout. Also, by setting out the required standards and expectations at the start, none of the team members will have any cause to complain or feel demotivated. Clear lines of communication and expectations are essential to motivating a team. Finally, by speaking with the team throughout the program, and also offering words of encouragement and support, each team member will feel valued, which is a key driver to delivering a successful program outcome.
One of the most important things with regards to delegation, is to know your team’s key strengths and weaknesses. That is why it is important to get to know your team inside out as soon as possible. If you know your team well, you should not have a problem delegating tasks. To specifically answer your question, I would draw up a list of tasks that needed to be delegated during the initial planning phase of the program, before identifying which team members should carry out each particular task based on their strengths. Once the tasks were delegated, I would ensure each team member was fully aware of the brief. I would also make sure they provided me with a situation report and update on a periodic basis. This would allow me to benchmark against my plan to ensure each task was working towards delivering a successful program, on time and within budget. I would always trust my team to deliver based on the fact I would be fully aware of their strengths and weaknesses.
The most frustrating aspect of being a Program Manager, and at the same time the most rewarding, is dealing with clients who have unrealistic expectations. I’ve been in situations before whereby I have spent a considerable amount of time discussing the program with a client, and also making them fully aware of the timelines and specification, only for them to place undue pressure on the program with altering expectations. Having said that, I do believe I have become highly competent at managing client’s expectations, and I do this by effective communication and making the client fully aware at every stage of the process we are working to. In my experience, by keeping the client fully onboard, and communicating with them competently at every stage, this saves time and problems later on down the line. The truth is, the client is the person who brings revenue into the business and it is my responsibility as a program manager to manage their expectations and keep them focused on the initial project aim and mission.
In my opinion, it is better to have a fine balance of both. I believe that, if you are feared, people may not feel motivated to work for you, and conversely, if you are loved, some people may take advantage of your good nature and the program can suffer as a result. An effective Program Manager, in my opinion, is someone who clearly defines the expectations and standards from the get-go, but who is also approachable and can use competent leadership and motivational skills to drive their team forward to complete the program for the client or the employer on time, within budget and to the required high standards.
AGILE is a management system that enables short development cycles that are commonly referred to as ‘sprints’. This approach allows for the continuing development and improvement of either the product or service. Essentially, there are 12 different elements to AGILE, and these are
- CUSTOMER PRIORITY – it is the aim of everything I do to meet the needs of the customer or the client;
- (ii) CHANGING REQUIREMENTS – I would welcome reasonable changes to the project to enable the client to stay at the forefront of their business or industry;
- (iii) all projects are delivered, tested and completed with a HIGHER FREQUENCY;
- (iv) COLLABORATION is a fundamental part of successful project development and completion;
- (v) MOTIVATED TEAM MEMBERS are absolutely crucial to the success of any project
- (vi) COMMUNICATION that is face-to-face is always preferred and deemed to be more effective;
- (vii) the MEASURE OF SUCCESS is defined by the quality of final product or service;
- (viii) all team members and stakeholders work at a CONSTANT PACE OF DELIVERY;
- (ix) we will always STRIVE TO ACHIEVE TECHNICAL EXCELLENCE in everything we do;
- (x) keeping things SIMPLE is the primary goal;
- (xi) SELF-ORGANIZATION is crucial to program delivery success; and
- (xii) regular INTERVALS should be utilized where possible to improve efficiency.
NOTE: The above answer is our own interpretation of AGILE. Prior to using this answer, pleases ensure you carry out your own research in respect of AGILE and its use within your program plans and their delivery.
My greatest weakness has to be the fact that I see my work as the most important aspect of my life. In the past, I have sometimes found it difficult to strike a healthy work-life balance, and the hours I have put into managing and completing programs has been, some might say, excessive. However, whilst I am still very passionate about my work and I still work very long hours, I feel I am becoming a smarter Program Manager and I have become a highly effective delegator and negotiator who has the ability to identify those within a team who have the most appropriate strengths to help me achieve my organizations objectives.
- Having conducted some research online, I understand the average salary of a Program Manager within this industry is £62,000 to £90,000. Whilst I do believe I am worth the higher band of salary, I understand that I have a responsibility to prove to you I can excel within this role. On that basis, I feel a fair and reasonable salary based on my experience and skillset would be £80,000 and I feel confident you would be impressed with my strong work ethics and performance based on the salary. NOTE: The salary range indicated within the above response is an estimate. Please ensure you carry out your own research from within you own industry based on the salary of a Program Manager.s
Q1. What are the strategic aims of the organization over the next 3-5 years and how could I help you as your Program Manager to achieve them?
Q2. What would be the first major program you would like me to focus on within the first few weeks of starting?
Q3. If I am successful, I would be keen to make your life as easy as possible. On that basis, what frustrations, if any, have you experienced with previous Program Managers who occupy a similar role?