I was 22 the first and only time that I ran out of gas.

This was in late 1990, which might as well have been the stone ages for a lot of today’s professional workforce. I had no cell phone, no AAA membership, and no gas can.

As I stood on the side of the road next to my car, I must have looked helpless and sad enough for some random guy in his 30s or 40s to stop and give me a lift to a gas station. This might have been one of his monthly excursions out of his mother’s basement, but I wasn’t judging him because I really needed help. And gas.

However, my Good Samaritan was judging me a little bit. After taking me to the gas station, where I bought a gas can and just enough gas to get my car back in operation, he started dropping advice on me. It was very simple and specific:

“Don’t run out of gas!!!”

I simply smiled and nodded. Gosh, what would I have done if he hadn’t given me that sage advice? I might run out of gas again and again, never realizing the folly of my ways.

Of course, I’m being sarcastic and maybe even a little mean. But the larger point I’m trying to make is that my rescuer was anything but a valuable consultant.

Consulting

Consulting involves providing expert advice or services to organizations, businesses, or individuals to help them solve specific problems, improve performance, or achieve specific goals. Consultants often bring specialized knowledge, skills, and external perspectives to offer insights and recommendations for strategic decision-making.

Effective consultants can add value in areas such as expertise, time savings, and cost savings. They can also offer objectivity and even customization for a specific customer’s need.

By the way: This work can be performed as both and internal and external consultant. And one particular internal role can have significant consulting impact: program manager.

Program management

Program management is the process of managing several related projects, known as a program, to achieve strategic organizational goals. It involves coordinating and overseeing the individual projects within the program, ensuring they align with the overall objectives and contribute to the desired outcomes. Program managers handle the complexities of interdependencies between projects, manage resources, and maintain communication across the various project teams.

“Effective program management is key to the strategic execution of an organization’s plans, but that is easier said than done,” notes Drew Schuetz in this LinkedIn article. “Studies reveal an alarming statistic that nearly two-thirds of organizations struggle with implementing their strategy. This is why good program management can be the main differentiating factor that can help companies translate their strategic vision into a holistic outcome.”

During my 16 years of internal professional coaching with T-Mobile, I also had numerous program management responsibilities, including leading the rollout and adoption of the company’s enterprise competency framework and associated tools for 70,000 employees, as well as lead roles in managing leadership development snd coaching programs.

Across several roles, I influenced thousands of employees to complete and implement development assessments and individual development plans (IDPs). Before T-Mobile, I performed similar program management duties while coaching at a 5,000-employee health care organization in Central Florida.

5 core elements of effective program management

Reflecting on my 18 years of experience in program management, I see five core elements in which program managers need to build proficiency:

  1. Strategy and alignment
  2. Customers, partners, and stakeholders
  3. Communication and feedback loops
  4. Success measures and data analysis
  5. Content and process creation…and ongoing iteration

Many program managers might not consider themselves to be “consultants,” or might even shy away from using that term because they’ve heard it described in a negative context. But if you review any of the content I’ve shared above, it’s not hard to see a key “meta-competency” of consulting woven throughout all of them.

Consulting, program management, and AI

Savvy consultants and program managers can use AI tools to be even more effective in their work.

For example, AI can analyze vast amounts of data quickly, identify patterns, and provide insights. Consultants can then use this information to make informed decisions, but their expertise is crucial for interpreting results, understanding the context, and applying a human touch to recommendations. Effective collaboration involves integrating AI tools into the consulting process, allowing humans to focus on complex problem-solving, creativity, and client interactions while AI handles routine tasks and data analysis

Similarly, program managers can embrace AI to be more efficient and make more informed decisions about program components and strategies. AI can help the human program manager in project planning, risk assessment, and resource optimization. Program managers can also use AI for predictive analytics to anticipate potential issues and recommend strategies for mitigation.

Take action!

Continue to grow your skills and effectiveness as both a consultant and a program manager by actively seeking feedback from colleagues, customers, and stakeholders. In addition, regularly reflect on your experiences, both successes and challenges. What went as planned? What was a little “bumpier” in execution? Apply these lessons learned going forward.

Another key ongoing action is to stay on top of technological advancements in program management tools, software, and methodologies, and investing efforts to learn these tools to the extent that you can. And, as mentioned earlier, consider how you can collaborate with AI for increased productivity, efficiency, and customer experience regarding your program.

Let’s connect

I’m an ICF-certified and experienced professional, coaching authentic human leaders in the age of AI, with a focus on organizations whose Director+ population is facing complex, nuanced problems. Use this link to schedule a call with me to discuss potential coaching services. You can also email me or message me on LinkedIn.