Finding the Right Program Director for Your PLM and Other Strategic Change Initiatives

In a previous post, I described the role of Program Directors in leading PLM and other strategic long-term change initiatives, in aligning to business and support function strategies towards a common vision and related SMART objectives. 

Program Directors must have sufficient PLM understanding and program management experience leading technical and business teams towards the same goals. They need to understand differences between PLM, ERP, MES and other digital platforms, business leadership requirements, cultural factors and contextual decision-making process. They must be active and proactive practitioner with the ability to see and translate the big picture in the relevant business and IT language—neither pure evangelists nor generalist operations managers.

In this post, I highlight key criteria to consider when searching and selecting Program Directors for new or existing PLM and related strategic change initiatives.


Leadership roles do not require full technical and business expertise, though it might help to get started and appreciate the complexity of PLM and / or other enterprise digital platform enabled transformations. It is also important to appreciate all elements and their interdependencies when leading PLM programs. For example, have we not all seen Program Directors with ERP background failing to deliver PLM programs as they struggled to get out of the ERP implementation template?

Therefore, the questions:

  • What are the key characteristics of PLM Program Directors?
  • How much business and IT experience / knowledge is relevant when embarking on such role?

Key attributes of Program Directors

Strategic thinking, communication, problem-solving, integrity, team leadership, complexity and stakeholder management are the core attributes or skills which typically come to mind when considering candidates for Program Director roles. The key relates to “credibility” and associated authority in leading (challenging and aligning) teams towards the same PLM goals. This is also coupled with the ability to learn and adapt to the context, business, technologic, data, people, etc.

Program Directors must combine knowledge and experience with empathy and demonstration of commitment and alignment to the strategic context. They leverage their expertise, hard and soft skills towards the contextual success factors of the current initiative. They must show that they care, and they commit to the success of the program that they lead; without a priori or simply trying to reproduce modus operandi from one setting to another.

“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” (attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, and many others…)

Being able to adapt and learn is essential, as change is the only constant. Programs initiate and run through successive phases and iterations of implementations and deployment. They have a lifecycle, hence a maturity cycle and will eventually transition to business-as-usual operations. Program Directors must therefore understand what it takes to build and lead new and existing teams, including suppliers, as well as understand how operations are run in order to stabilize solutions for a robust hand-over to operational teams.

Practitioners, neither evangelists nor operations managers

Program Directors must be practitioner: they must be able to derive, use, adapt and challenge operating practices and lead improvements. They are change agents, genuine leaders with the ability to conceptualize and also to apply concepts, speaking and doing what is really important for the program that they lead. They do not only preach what needs to be done, they get they hands dirty by guiding and directing teams towards these objectives.

Leading change can contradict operations management; change requires breaking away from the current status quo, aiming at restoring a new and improved status quo. Operations managers focus on running the business, ensuring that it runs as efficiently and smoothly as possible. They may also drive change through continuous improvement: identifying and addressing short- and long-term problems and opportunities, managing budget, auditing, reporting, compliance, developing operating standards, policies and procedures.

By contrast, Program Directors typically focus on significant “transformational” change which might not be reachable through continuous improvement. Therefore, they face significant amount of risk and uncertainty, coupled with possible resistance to change and associated turbulence. Broadly speaking, the risk of failure is higher with Program Management than it is with Operations Management. There is a need for resilience and leadership with both practices, but the transient nature of Program Management certainly makes it more of an art than a science.

What are your thoughts?


This is an original publication by:

Momentum PLM and written by Lionel Grealou


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Lionel Grealou

27th January

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