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Publication: Public Administration Quarterly
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 17635
ISSN: 07349149
Journal code: SRP


In the last decades program management has emerged as a new type of management between line management and project management approaches. For a long time, the dominant management paradigm in management theory and practice has been functional hierarchical line management (Turner and Keegan 1999). According the organization principles of Fayol, Urwick and Taylor the ideal organization is divided into functional specialties clearly bounded from one another. Line managers were appointed on higher hierarchical levels to integrate and coordinate these specialized domains and sectors within organizations (Moss Kanter 1983: 58-61). However, coordination and integration remains a problem in fragmented organizations (Koteen 1997).

Since the 1950s, private and public sector organizations have adopted project-based approaches to cope with fragmentation and to realize functional integration in organizations (Koteen 1997; Turner and Keegan 1999). This project management approach is trying to transcend organizational line structures and to bring more integration between specialized domains (Koteen 1997). The growth in the use of project management in the last decades is sometimes called "projectification" (Maylor et al. 2006). Its failure in bringing more coherence and coordination in public organizations is also widely discussed (e.g. Turner and Keegan 1999; Crawford et al. 2003; Maylor et al. 2006). Projectification is discussed as a new way of fragmentation of projects operating in isolation from each other. Projectification is nowadays followed by a move towards "programmification", in which project clusters or portfolios are being created (Koteen 1997; Maylor et al. 2006;) to ensure that individual projects are properly attuned, connected, integrated and coordinated (Koteen 1997; Crawford et al. 2003; Lycett et al. 2004; O"Toole and Meier 2004). We explicitly define program management as managerial attempts to bring closer connection between single projects and with the line organization (c.f. Maylor et al. 2006). However, empirical studies on these benefits and on the broader issue of program management in the public sector are rare (O"Toole and Meier 2004).

Our objective in this article is to provide more empirical insight in the dynamics of program management in the public sector. We especially focus on how program management activities succeed or not in realizing more connectedness between singular projects and how these projects become more connected with line management in public organizations. Our research question is therefore: how evolves program management in public sector organizations and what affects the connective capacity of program management in the public sector? We discuss and analyze a case study on the "Policy with Citizens" program at the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment (abbreviated in Dutch as VROM: "Volkshuisvesting, Ruimtelijke Ordening and Milieubeheer").

The structure of our article is as follows. In the next section we introduce a theoretical framework, in which we discuss program management as a response to fragmentation in organizations. We finish this section by describing the analytical focus we will be using for the case study. Subsequently we explain the research methodology. We start the empirical part with background information on the case and describe the structure and functioning of this program. Next, we present our findings of the case and conclude with a discussion in the final section.


Fragmentation and Integration in Public Organizations

Fragmentation and integration are core concepts in the field of public administration (Alter and Hage 1993; Peters 1998; 6 et al, 2002; Pollitt 2003 Bryson et al. 2006; Keast et al. 2007; Laegreid and Wise 2007; Christensen and Laegreid 2007). Scholars in public administration are familiar with the departmental structure of governmental organizations. In the beginning of the twentieth century, various management theories emphasized the efficient functioning of organizations. Fayol and Urwick conceptualized management as a process of planning, organization, command, control and coordination. The division of labor and the specialization of tasks continue to be basic organization principles. Organizations evolved by precisely demarcating tasks and functions, and were organized hierarchically along clear lines of responsibilities (Whetten 1977; Peters 1998; Keast et al. 2007). The ideal organization is divided into functional specialties that have clear boundaries between each other, with managers appointed on a higher hierarchical level to coordinate these specialized and functional areas. Organizations were perceived to be machines, composed of different parts that could be managed and coordinated mechanically (Morgan 1986: 27).

Fragmentation is a consequence of the pursuit of specialization, a driving force for wealth and development (Pollitt 2003). Simon (1962; 1981) formulated his famous decomposition-coordination thesis on this topic. First, work is decomposed (through differentiation and specialization) into separate units to realize efficiency and productivity in organizations. Second, line and middle managers are appointed to coordinate and integrate the separated work units to realize general organizational goals (Blake and Mouton 1963; Lawrence and Lorch 1967; Galbraith 1973; Pfeffer 1978; Mintzberg 1979). Through coordination activities one tries to ensure that specialized activities fit together in a coherent and beneficial way (Moss Kanter 1983: 58-61; 6 1997; Peters 1998; 6 et al, 2002; Keast et al. 2007).

In the last few decades the negative effects of fragmentation have shadowed the positive impacts of specialization. The perception of organizations as machines was supplanted with the understanding that organizations are complex systems composed of different subunits. Morgan (1986, 37-38) has argued that a focus on departmental and segmented interests and pet projects may subvert the working of the whole. Separate actions guided by sub-goals and individual time frames and action schemes may become dysfunctional at the level of the overall system, especially for solving societal problems (Whetten 1977; Alter and Hage 1993; March 1999). Moss Kanter (1983) described the problem thus: "The structural barriers to communication, to exchange of ideas, to joint efforts to solve problems are matched by attitudes that confine people to the category in which they have been placed, that assume they are defined by that category, and that fail to allow them to show what they can contribute beyond it" (31-32).

Public organizations have become even more fragmented as the philosophy of New Public Management (NPM) took hold. NPM aimed to reform public administration by using new business management models that would lead to lean and decentralized structures, market-oriented delivery of public services, a focus on outputs and efficiency, and an increase in the importance of measurement, quantification, managerialism and empowerment (see e.g. Crawford et al. 2003; Koppenjan and Klijn 2004; Pollitt and Bouckaert 2004; Pollitt et al. 2007).

These NPM reforms provided a breeding ground for project management approaches in public management. If public management employees can define a unique task with a limited scope, limited time span and clear budget lines, they normally tend to launch a project (Crawford et al. 2003; Maylor et al. 2006). Projectification meant that the same question was asked as with the earlier trend towards specialization: how could these autonomous projects be related and connected to each other and the larger public organization (Teisman 2005)? The project management approach has a rational and well-ordered management orientation that is based on a closed and mechanistic system perspective (Jaafari 2003; Thiry and Deguire 2004; Jugdev and Müller 2005). As with specialization, projectification might result in fragmentation within public organizations.

A response to NPM took place, moving away from structural devolution, disaggregation and single-purpose organizations (6 et al 2002; Keast et al 2007), towards a so-called "whole-of-government" or "joined-up-government" approach (Pollitt 2003; Christensen and Laegreid 2006). These initiatives are described as the opposite of departmentalism, tunnel vision and vertical silos. They denote an aspiration to achieve horizontal as well as vertical coordination and integration (Pollitt 2003; Christensen and Laegreid 2007).

Program Management as a Response to Fragmentation

Program management approaches can be viewed as a response to the fragmentation that was caused by projectification (Teisman 2005; Maylor et al. 2006). Contemporary program management has emerged out of the interdependencies between projects (Thiry and Deguire 2004). However, there is some ambiguity about the concept of a "program" and how it can help to manage fragmentation. In the public administration context, programs are used in many different settings (see also Mandell 1994). Perhaps Kettl (1988) has expressed the broadness of the term "program" best by arguing that eventually most activities in the public domain can be structured as part of programs. Here, we discuss program management as a response to the fragmentation that exists in public organizations.

In the public administration literature, programs are often discussed in the context of PPBS and other mechanisms that are used to enhance accountability in budgeting and planning (see e.g. Pressman and Wildavsky 1973; Van Gunsteren 1976; Mintzberg 1994). Despite the widespread adoption of similar approaches across the world, PPBS was not very successful. However, programming remained as an important mechanism in the strategic planning cycle of functional line management for structuring activities (Mintzberg 1994). Programs in this cycle are used to implement strategies that were developed earlier, which is one way in which "grand design" plans can be divided into concrete activities (Mintzberg 1994). This classic interpretation of programs leads to further fragmentation in organizations.

Pressman and Wildavsky (1973), in their well-known study, argued that a program should be considered to be an evolving whole whose development depends on the interaction and interconnection of many interdependent elements. Moreover, future processes cannot be predictably planned in advance: "Something should be left open to the unfolding events. Then as latent conflicts become manifest, the original agreements have to be renegotiated and a new and possibly more antagonistic situation emerges." (91-92).

Many contemporary approaches to program management focus on interconnecting different autonomous project activities into a larger whole. Program management is about realizing connections among various projects and the hierarchical line structure within organizations (Mandell 1994; O"Toole et al. 1997; Hall and O"Toole 2000; Lycett, et al. 2004). Majone and Wildavsky (1984: 166) claim that two processes are at play during implementation: on the one hand, the borders of what is feasible have to be explored continuously; on the other, there is a constant effort to interconnecting and integrating the diverse components (projects) of a program.

As we argued in the introduction, the concept of program management can create new possibilities for averting the shortcomings of line management and project management approaches in public organizations. Project management approaches create planned isolation to enable projects to develop relative separately from their environment. However, since no project is an island, interdependencies among projects will appear regularly during their development (Engwall 2003). As a consequence, a program is not a stable but a dynamic concept that is built on moving and interconnected projects. During the development of a program and its mutually intertwined projects, there will be irrevocable effects on the structure and interaction patterns of the line organization. The relation of program management and line organization is a continuous process of connection and disconnection (Lehtonen and Martinsuo 2008). While a program, the projects it contains, and line management are separately distinguishable components, they are mutually interdependent and highly co-related (Partington 2000). Program management can thus be considered to be an adaptive process where there is a constant search for a temporary interconnection between the various projects and line structures within organizations.

Browne and Wildavsky (1984: 237) warned that overspecialisation and a preference for internal stability in organizations could counteract the opportunities for reciprocal adaptation between a program and its context during implementation. Overspecialization and a focus on internal stability can be risky for the interplay between projects, program and line organization. An internal focus and non-cooperative behavior of actors in a network disturb their mutually interdependent processes (Klijn and Teisman 2003: 141), which may result in systemic inertia and program stagnation (Teisman 2005). Deliberate isolation of projects can create myopic visioning by stimulating a focus on a-priori well-defined content and self-referential behaviour. This may result in overestimation of the project organization"s own procedures and delivery (Klijn and Teisman 2003; Riis and Pedersen 2003). At the level of program management, Mandell (1994) introduces the concept of "program rationale". Individuals involved in the implementation of a program are usually committed to that program. A surplus of this commitment can lead to detachment from their line organization. As Kettl (1988) and O"Toole et al. (1997) show, in the network around programs, participants of line organizations primarily act out of responsibility to their own sub-network. From this position, they try to ensure their own interests and attempt to influence the development of the program as much as possible. Klijn and Teisman (2003) indicate that such behavior carries the risk that programs will become collections of loosely-linked projects.

Murray-Webster and Thiry (2000) view contemporary program management as an emerging arrangement that provides organizations optimal advantage for interconnecting and integrating project activities. An important characteristic of program management, which distinguishes it from project management, is the creation of a framework that shapes the context for projects by grouping, initiating and directing them. Gardiner (2005) argues that many projects take place as part of a portfolio of projects. However, program management differs from portfolio management as, it not only coordinates projects and allocates resources across them, it also aims to deliver an additional benefit by stimulating development beyond the individual project objectives (Turner and Müller 2003; Partington et al. 2005). Its focus on interconnectedness among projects highlights the synergetic character of program management (Dijkzeul 1997; Gardiner 2005; Maylor et al. 2006). Projects are evaluated in terms of their coherence and synergy (Turner 2000; Pellegrinelli 2002; Teisman 2005). Moreover, program management can be seen as a series of management activities to interconnect both projects and line structures (Lundin and Soderholm 1995; Turner and Müller 2003). From this perspective, program management can be viewed as a temporary organization, where program managers shape the content, structures and processes of their programs in connection to the diversity and fragmentation of the aims and interests of various project and line managers (Lehtonen and Martinsuo 2008).

Analytical Focus: The Connections between Program, Projects, and the Line Organization

Thus, the core focus of program management is to realize synergetic coherence among projects in relation to organizational line structures. In this view, program management is about realizing productive and meaningful connections with projects on the one hand and line organization on the other hand (Lundin and Soderholm 1995; Turner and Müller 2003; Lehtonen and Martinsuo 2008. Program management connects strategic planning processes at the level of the line organization with concrete activities at the project level (Koteen 1997; Crawford et al. 2003; Lycett et al. 2004; Murray-Webster and Thiry 2000).

In this research we define program management as "a deliberate attempt to interconnect single projects in an overarching program and to connect this program to the line organization". The definition emphasises the notion of connective capacity of program management, which is the capacity of a program to connect fragmented and sometimes isolated projects to the specific goals and priorities of the program, and to integrate these within the strategic planning processes in the line organization.

We focus on the management activities of project, line and program managers in the case. Our units of analysis are the individuals who manage programs. In line with our definition we explicitly investigate the capacity of these managers to connect: 1) programs with projects and 2) programs with the line organization. We thus study the connective capacity of program management on two levels.

1. The connections between projects and program: the level of interrelatedness between the program management team and the project managers of single projects.

Here, we focus at the attempts, or lack of them, by program management to create connections amongst projects by considering: the number and diversity of projects supported by the program managers; the distribution of resources (knowledge, financial, people) by the program team over projects; and the way in which program managers manage interrelations between projects to create synergy between them and to make sense of these interrelations at program level.

2. The connections between program and line organization: the level of embeddedness of the program management in the line organization and the approach of line managers with respect to a program (and its projects).

Here, we take into account the initial position of program managers in relation to the line organization and the development of this position. We concentrate on the attitude of line management towards the program, attempts of program managers to interact more frequently with line managers, and the development of mechanisms to increase the embedding of (integral) programmatic results in the content, structure and processes of the line organization.


To analyze the two levels of connective capacity of program management we conducted case study research. We selected the program "Policy with Citizens' developed and implemented by the Ministry of VROM. The development of "projectification" can be witnessed at this ministry (Vermeulen and Schrijver 1996; Teisman 2005). This case is furthermore interesting and relevant for this study because program managers deliberately sought out project cohesion, program development, and embeddedness in the line organization of the ministry. Program management was developed and implemented within this ministry aimed to connect single projects and to connect the program to the ministry"s line organization. Therefore it is considered useful for this research. We are aware that we study only one case, on a specific governmental level (national government), within a certain field (Spatial Planning en Environment) and within a specific country (The Netherlands). However, our ambition is not to generalize insights from this research, but to generate deeper understanding in a specific case on how connective capacities of program management evolve in practice. This ambition corresponds with the supposed added values of the study and the main question posed in the introduction of this article.

We gathered data in a number of ways: 1) document analysis (of policy documents, project portfolios, meeting minutes, etc.); 2) semi structured interviews with 10 key actors (program managers, project managers, line managers, and civil servants active in projects, programs and line organization); 3) participatory observation (of program meetings, project meetings and meetings of middle managers in the line organization); and 4) workshops / group interviews (one session with the program team and one with project managers). The first two methods were the foundation of our research, whereas the last two methods were used to validate and sometimes further elaborate (prior) findings. coming from the first two research methods. They were used for testing and controlling the findings coming from document analysis and interviews. The study resulted in an evaluation report for VROM (Buijs, Edelenbos and Slob 2006).

We studied the case throughout a number of years in the period 2004-2007. This historic analysis provided us the chance to observe the evolution of the program and the connective capacity of program management over a longer period of time. We interviewed the 10 key actors for a number of times, some of them even three times (for example the program manager). In total we conducted 25 semi-structured interviews. The interviews were all structured around the core concept "connections". We explicitly asked project managers, line managers, and program managers questions on their attitude towards other projects, the program and line organization, their specific actions in developing and implementing the projects and program, and the attitude, motives, resources and actions to (not) develop and establish connections to other projects, the program and the line organization. We also asked for results and conflicts in realizing connections with projects and line organization. These concepts were also used for analyzing the documents.

Next, we provide some background information on the case, followed by an analysis based on our two focal points.


In this section, we describe the program "Policy with Citizens" at VROM. This program was selected since it exemplifies the complexity of two connection levels (between project - program, and program - line organization). The program was implemented as part of an effort to improve the relationship between the ministry"s policy-makers and the diverse citizens in society. The program was all about developing more citizen orientation and participation in the ministry of VROM. Program management in this context was confronted with a variety of projects and a hierarchical line organization that caused fragmentation regarding to citizen orientation and participation in projects. The deliberate intention of the initiators of "Policy with Citizens" was to create an integrated program, which placed citizen-orientation at the centre of policy-making.

The Program of Policy with Citizens is best referred to as an organizational change program. Compared to social intervention programs, like neighbourhood, housing, or welfare programs, Policy with Citizens is rather focussed on the organization of the ministry instead of directly on the well-being of citizens. Further, this study is not focused on the potential of the program"s policy, it considers the dynamics and management of the program.

Background Information

At the end of the 1990s, VROM"s Environmental Department became aware that its relations with citizens needed to be reoriented. The environmental policy existing then was too technical and did not correspond with the lifeworld of citizens. To prepare a new national environmental policy plan, the ministry began experimenting with various citizen-oriented projecstudy on the preparation of this policy plan, Beckers et al. 2000 concluded that, while many interesting and mostly small-scale projects and initiatives existed in this field, they were not connected to each other. Thus, even though attention was paid to citizens within VROM, the overall impact was highly fragmented and divergent (Beckers et al. 2000).

During the budget debate in 2002 for VROM in the Dutch Parliament, a motion was adopted that requested the ministry set up the national environmental policy such that it was of, for and by the citizens to a greater extent (Dutch Parliament 2001-2002, 28 000 XI, nr. 21). Due to this motion, allowance was provided in VROM"s budget for a program to stimulate the involvement of citizens in the field of environmental policy-making. The then-Minister of VROM followed through by starting up a multi-year program "Citizens and Environmental Policy", which was later called "Policy with Citizens". This program included, among other things, the co-production and participation of citizens in the decision-making processes of the Environment Directorate-General (abb. DGM). From the start, the program"s focus was on intensifying citizen-orientation among civil servants and project managers in policy preparation. Other directorates of the department (Spatial Planning, Housing and Inspectorate) were involved later on, from 2007 onwards. Our study focuses on the period until 2007.

A combined program team was created to carry out the program. It was made up of four DGM employees and four external specialists/consultants in citizen-involvement. The team advised and offered different types of support (financial, knowledge, etc.) to a variety of projects (see figure 1).

Civil Servants and the 'Policy With Citizens' Projects

The program management made connections to a number of projects in areas such as external safety, biodiversity, garbage policy, environmental pollution, and spatial quality and liveability (see figure 1). In general, there was a reasonable degree of enthusiasm among the policy makers and civil servants in these projects for a citizen-oriented approach. However, along the way, the program team met a variety of barriers. First, almost every project manager felt they did not possess the competencies to include citizen-orientation in policy projects. They argued: "I am not trained to involve citizens adequately in my project"; "I have learned some things about project management, but not about citizen-involvement and orientation"; "This is a totally new ballgame" (Project manager, 2006). "Some colleagues had sleepless nights, because they did not know what to do in this citizen-orientation way of working" (Project manager, 2006).

Four project managers indicated that they didn"t want to change their work routines, because the new drive was merely a political wind that would blow over. "Why should I invest in all these new methods and skills: it is just a phase that soon will be over. It is just one of the many ideas from top management within our department" (Project manager, 2005). Previous initiatives that stimulated citizen engagement and interactive policy making within VROM, such as the Implementation Challenge and the Pegasus Program, had not succeeded in bringing about any structural and behavioural changes in the organization. Moreover, almost all interviewed civil servants and project managers questioned the purpose and added value of citizen orientation, because they themselves were the experts in the field: "why involve citizens in this complex project, as they don"t have the proper knowledge to understand what is going one. Moreover, I don"t see any added value in involving citizens: what can they teach me in the field of environment?" (VROM employee, 2006). This indicated the overall reluctant attitude of project managers and civil servants to engage in the program "Policy with Citizens".

Two respondents indicated that they already had developed a citizen-orientation in policy making: "I"m already doing this. Why should I invest in participation in a program; this only takes time" (VROM employee, 2005). There were two civil servants who questioned the whole idea to develop citizen-orientation from a normative (democratic) point of view: "Why should we listen directly to citizens? They are not my principals. My job is to provide information to top and executive managers from the department" (VROM employee, 2005).

A common complaint was that they were judged according to end-results during their staff appraisals; thus, process-related issues, such as citizen-orientation, did not count for much. It was commonly acknowledged that middle management was mainly content-oriented. The employee appraisal system gave virtually no incentives to employees for becoming project managers in the program and for adopting a more citizen-oriented approach. "Why should we invest in a time-consuming consultation process with citizens, when we are assessed on the substance of our policy? Consequently, employees focused on short-term aims and their individual scores, while long-term objectives and process-oriented developments were not appreciated at the middle-management level.

The Programmatic Nature of Policy with Citizens

Strikingly, line management approached the Policy with Citizens program as a single project, with one objective, namely, the involvement of citizens. Despite the minister"s commitment, political assignment from parliament, and the approval of the goals by the Board of Directors, it remained uncertain how far line management in general supported the goal of culture change and recognized the long-term nature of the program. The program management was continuously insecure about the consolidation of the line management"s commitment and felt that they had to deal with a conservative attitude among civil servants and public managers on new ways of policy making with citizens.

Moreover, all project managers did not perceive the program as a change process. They were focused more on meeting their project goals within the existing parameters formulated by line management, than on finding out how the project could add value to the program, and to the overall change process within the ministry. This is hardly surprising, since they are appraised on how efficiently they manage projects. "I am not assessed on the citizen-oriented way of policy-making, I am assessed on what I realize (substance of environmental policy) and if this is realized in an efficient way" (Project manager, 2006). There are no incentives from middle management for their employees to be citizen-oriented. These incentives hampered the ambition of program management to generate coherence and interconnectedness of the projects and its connection to line organization, particularly middle management.

All project managers of Policy with Citizens projects were mainly interested in their own isolated projects. "Why should I be concerned or interested in other projects or in the general program? I have my own project assignment that is sharply defined" (Project manager, 2005). There was a lack of sense of the embeddedness of individual projects in an integrated program. This approach was legitimate in the eyes of the project managers because they were assessed on their specific projects, not on their involvement in other projects, how embedded they were in the program, or their level of contribution to program goals. Their orientation was not on connecting their projects to other projects, but to keep their own project safe from disturbances by external dynamics.

Projects remained isolated from each other and, to a lesser degree, from program management. Projects stayed within their limits; no interconnection among projects within a programmatic view was realized. As a consequence, information and experiences on citizen-orientation from individual projects was rarely consolidated at the level of the program or the organization. Projects were coordinated and supported by the program team in an ad hoc way, by, for example, helping project staff develop project proposals and financial plans. A one way directed connection was realized, project managers were enthusiastic as long as the interference of program management contributed to the goals of the project. Program management didn"t hold the bigger picture and were busier filling the program with as many project as possible. "In the program team, we were mainly oriented on realizing as many Policy with Citizens projects as possible, especially at the beginning of the program" (Program team member, 2005). Initially, less attention was given to the content of the projects, the way citizens were involved in the process, and how each project related to other projects in the program. Projects got their specific place within the program but made few connections with other projects and remained isolated within the total program, with little development at the program level as a consequence. The program was more a collage of unlinked projects.

Project workers and managers at the ministry were criticized for not thinking more strategically or for not developing and sharing their knowledge. However, the program team did not facilitate or incentivize these behaviors by, for example, providing time and financial resources. "We thought and hoped that project managers developed a community in which knowledge and experiences were shared. However, this didn"t happen spontaneously. We had to reserve time for these kinds of activities. We organized this too late, projects were already up and running and didn"t feel any urge to get connected to other projects or in a total program on citizen orientation" (Program team member, 2006).

Program Versus Line Organization: Clashing Structure and Culture

While the program was intended to work in an integrated manner, this intention conflicted with the existing organizational chart and routines of the line management. Given the program"s aims and its desired way of working, it made sense to have it stand outside the ministry"s existing hierarchical structure. However, the rigidly organized departmental responsibilities put pressure on the program to adapt itself to work within the existing structure as soon as the two sides had to interact. As a result, the program"s coherence and interconnectedness became lost. The citizens" agenda not only failed to take into account the internal organization of the ministry, but was also at odds with the way accountability is distributed in the layers of the organization. "These kind of integrated programs are hampered by the existing hierarchical structures and lines within the departmental organization. Employees are well aware in which divisions they work, which tasks they have and what responsibilities to bear. A political whim will not change this easily" (Former Program team member, 2006).


Here, we analyze the case more systematically. We make our observations along the two focal points: (1) the connection between projects and the program, and (2) the connection between the program and the line organization.

Connection between the Program and Projects: Projects under a Program Umbrella

VROM's project managers approached the Policy with Citizens program as a project. They perceived the program to be a project aimed at increasing the involvement of citizens in the departments" day-to-day procedures. Project managers focused mainly on the content of their own projects, without studying how they fit with the overall program. Their main priority was to meet the goals of their project. What was learnt did not make its way beyond the individual or project team levels. This insight is reflected in literature on project and program management (c.f. Koteen 1997; Maylor et al. 2006). Each project has its own rationale and ambition, and doesn't appreciate dynamics coming from other projects frustrating the course of the project. Projects within the program remained isolated, with little connections made between different projects.

In our case, the program team did not make any effort to bring the projects together under the umbrella of the whole program. The program was not more than a portfolio of isolated projects (c.f. Gardiner 2005). The program managers approached each project separately, without providing room for knowledge and experience-sharing among the diverse projects. There was no "natural" inclination within the projects to connect to other projects, because staff working on the projects were not prepared to spend their "own project time" on activities that did not contribute to the core of the project, i.e. the content of the project itself. There was no intrinsic motivation or outside stimulation (from the program team or middle management) to look beyond their own particular projects, and towards interconnecting their projects to other projects. Insights from this case study learn us that program management has to be much more about creating the right conditions to attract projects to the program. In building a program it has to become a stimulating environment for project managers to exchange information and experiences with other project managers and workers.

The program"s integrated working approach appeared to be in conflict with the ministry"s organization structure. During the implementation of the projects, there was constant pressure (from middle management) to adapt them so that they fit within the departmental "boxes" of the organization. There was no counter pressure from the program team to maintain cohesion in the program, and to re-integrate projects that were fragmenting. This research stresses the pressure coming from existing structures intervening with the program management ambition to interconnect projects coming from different organizational boxes. This insight strikingly resembles insights in project management literature, where project managers also experience pressure from existing organizational structures (Engwall, 2003).

The program team focused mainly on the efficiency and scheduling of single projects, even though the concept of program management assumes that the team should have an overarching view and think beyond the limits of particular projects. Despite the initially high number of projects and their diverse nature, the program team continued to create more projects, rather than seek out possible synergies between them. In this way, projects became further fragmented and drifted.

The program team had a top-down perspective that led it to emphasize coordination between projects, by monitoring their interrelatedness. Supplementary to existing literature we found in our case study that program management is much about directing and controlling interconnectedness in a program (c.f. Gardiner 2005), whereas it doesn"t pay much attention to establishing a environment in which project managers are stimulated to meet other project managers in order to find interesting insights that can be learned from other projects in developing citizen orientation. Program management is then more about developing the right circumstances and stimuli to develop coherence between projects in a program. The program managers failed to appreciate that a bottom-up approach to projects (by facilitating the transfer of knowledge and experiences among staff from the various projects by, for example, bringing them together and providing them time) could contribute more to the overall program and the change toward citizen orientation in the line organization of the ministry of VROM.

Connection Between Program and Line Management: Anchorage in Middle Management

Another observation from our study was that, although some of the project managers and workers were extremely enthusiastic about the new approach, there were also signs that it failed to generate similar enthusiasm at higher levels (department heads and directors). The interconnection of the program at middle management level was poorly organized. Project managers bemoaned the lack of support and priority given to their activities by middle management in the program"s framework. Some of them even mentioned that they had to carry out citizen-oriented project activities in their own private time (in the evening).

There was no specific supervision from middle management for implementing citizen-orientation on a daily basis. It was more likely that middle management tolerated it or paid lip-service to citizen-orientation, at least as long as it did not disturb day-to-day procedures too much. Middle managers were not rewarded for citizen-orientation by top management, or even encouraged to develop this orientation within their direction or group. Few positive incentives to do so were offered by middle managers. For them, the move towards citizen-orientation, consisting of diverse projects and the Policy with Citizens program, was but one of several items on their agendas, and certainly not something easy to score on during their annual appraisals either. Without this incentive structure the connection of the program and the projects to middle management was largely absent. This insight that programs were hanging loose in line organization and is hampering a good and coherent functioning of programs is supported by other scholars (Hall and O"Toole 2000; Lycett et al. 2004).

At the management level, the program continues to be perceived as "a project" with only one goal, namely the involvement of citizens. It is still questionable to what extent the goal of "culture change", as well as the recognition that this is a long-term journey, is shared. This insight from our case study is widely shared: the development and implementation of programmatic approaches requires a change in working practices, which have to be supported and encouraged by top and middle management (Vermeulen and Schrijver 1996; Turner and Müller 2003; Maylor et al. 2006).


The objective of this article was to provide empirical insights on the capacities of program management in connecting a program with individual projects and the line organization in the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Development and Environment. In the theory development section, we suggested that program management depends crucially on the capacity of its organizing connections, which manifests in two different ways. The first connection is between projects and the programs that contain them. A program is built on a number of different projects, which have their own development course, but are also partly dependent on other projects. The degree to which these projects are connected determines the cohesion of the program. The second connection is between programs and line management. Projects as well as programs are embedded. The latter are embedded in the line structure of an organization or several organizations. Program managers" activities lie not only in laying out the connections between projects, but also between their program and the line management of their parent organization. With this "double connection view" we wanted to provide better empirical understanding what problems and opportunities program managers experience in developing a program of coherent projects that is firmly embedded in a line organization.

We can draw some conclusions from our case study, although we have to be cautious in generalizing from these outcomes too quickly. Our findings are based on only one case on a specific departmental, national governmental level, in a specific country (The Netherlands) and in a special field (environmental issues). These aspects can cause some biases in the research and hamper the generalization of the findings to other sectors, countries and governmental levels. With these limitations in mind, we present the following findings and conclusions in this final section.

The first finding from our case study is that many perspectives exist on what a program should be or look like. "Work floor" managers working on specific projects within a program have a project-perspective, and approach the program as a potential hindrance or support to their own projects. Project ambitions are their starting point, and the program"s ambitions are secondary. Line managers approach and see the program as only one of several "big projects" in the strategic evolution of their organization. These different perspectives and approaches make it hard to develop and realize a program of coherent projects that are embedded firmly in VROM"s line organization. Each manager, from line, project and program organization, approaches the program differently. We can conclude that program management is a process of sense-making in which through interaction a common ground or point of departure has to be developed. In today"s literature on program management this sense-making perspective is largely absent. A first lesson, therefore, is that it is important to first invest in developing a more or less common view through a process of mutual sense-making of the program from different points of view and positions. For a more accurate understanding of these processes, studies in the field of complex social systems may be of added value (e.g. Cilliers 1998; Flood 1999; Teisman, Van Buuren and Gerrits 2009). "Each action system consists of subsystems and is embedded in larger systems. Each systems embedded in a larger system develops its own sense making and action. If it is confronted with a process it will reinterpret (consciously or unconsciously) what the process is about and how to get on with it" (Teisman 2008: 344).

A second finding from our case study is that the connections between the individual projects within the overall program are weak. Each project has a tendency to develop in "splendid isolation", with project managers focused on their own specific project goals and interests. However, at the same time, program managers were unable to integrate the individual projects under a single umbrella. This flaw of program management has been emphasized in the literature on program management (Kettl 1988; O"Toole et al. 1997; Dietrich 2007). When this occurs, a program becomes nothing more than a collection of, at the most, very loosely- (but often non-) linked projects (Gardiner 2005). The challenge lies in connecting projects in such a way that something arises which is more developed than a program structure, inside which the as-yet fragmented projects are separately shaped. In the case study, program managers did not perform many activities to break the isolated character of many projects. The program managers were busy bringing projects under the program rationale of citizen involvement and in doing so didn"t pay attention to create interconnection among the projects. The difficulty of this is known (c.f. Gardiner 2005; Maylor 2006), however, in our case study we have provided insights into the reasons behind this problem. In public organizations the right conditions are often not present for developing a coherent program. In our case study, the program managers were focused on creating a visible and big as possible program and thus maximizing their yearly budget. In an environment that is dominated by project approaches, the most obvious way for program management to accomplish this objective is to "score" as many projects as possible. Project managers received extra funding from the program for developing their projects, but they were not held accountable for not realizing program targets (including having to pay penalties if program goals were not reached).

This orientation also led to a third finding, namely that of little interconnection between the projects within the program. A lively program with interacting projects did not occur in practice. An insight from our case study is that project managers do not see connecting with other projects, e.g. to share experiences, knowledge, results, as part of their core business. This insight is also broadly recognized in studies on knowledge management within the field of project management (see Bresnen et al. 2003; Engwall 2003; Huang and Newell. 2003; Sydow et al. 2004; Newell et al. 2008). Knowledge management in complex project environments requires a construction of social patterns by joint efforts to share experiences, meaning and understanding (Bresnen et al. 2003: 129). Thus, to bring this about, program managers should deliberately stimulate and organize meetings among project managers. For a lively program with an emergent character, it is important that program managers put incentives in the framework of the program in such a way that project managers see it as their task and responsibility to interconnect their project with other projects. At the same time this meeting with other project managers must be perceived as a rich environment in which project managers can obtain information and knowledge and exchange experiences with each other. We believe that this insight, supported by literature about learning in a project environment, provides added value on how program management can create synergy between diverse projects. Program management is about facilitating interaction between projects by encouraging and seducing project managers to exchange experiences with other project managers. In the case study, many project managers went about finding out how they could develop and implement citizen orientation in practice. A learning community on this issue could work as an attractor to developing interactions between single projects.

A final finding is on the connection between the program (and its projects) and the (middle) line organization of the department. This link is often stressed in the literature on program management (Koteen 1997; Crawford et al. 2003; Lycett et al. 2004). Our case study indicates that the interconnection of the program (and its projects) to line management, and specifically to middle management, can be considered problematic. Middle line management in our case was not interested in program developments, because they were not (formally) linked to the in-house systems and working routines and procedures. This insight is in line with other literature (Lycett et al. 2004). Our study shows that the missing link with middle management reinforces the missing or undeveloped link between program and projects and the connection among projects. In our case line management did not put much weight on the program, and as a consequence project managers were not inclined to act to meet program ambitions. Project managers were not assessed by middle management on paying attention to these ambitions. Program management can therefore be considered organizing and maintaining multiple links among projects and with the line organization in developing a coherent and synergetic program. A concrete lesson is that the internal staff appraisal system has to be used to realize connections between program and line organization. Embedding the program, for example in annual plans and job descriptions, could also be useful. Since departments, to some degree, establish their responsibilities based on their annual organizational plans, it is essential to create the impetus for the program.s ambitions in them.

So, program management is about developing and organizing double connections at the same time with projects and line organizations where these two links reinforces each other. At the same time we have come to the insight that program management is not solely about enforcing cohesion and connection in a top down manner. It is about creating the incentive structure and environment in which projects are encouraged and stimulated to meet and interconnect in a bottom up way as well. A few scholars have already underlined that space for evolution and variability is crucial to success (Pressman and Wildavsky 1973; 1984; Partington 2000).

Program management can be considered to be a two-fold co-evolutionary process with projects and line organizations, in which program managers have to influence the ambitions, motives, and ways of working of the institutions involved in the line organization and project implementations so that they move in the direction of the program. Managing a program does not imply that every aspect of it has to be controlled in favor of its unity at a specific point in time. Instead, it also implies releasing time and room for separate projects to grow on their own, before they can be re-integrated with other projects in the program at a later point. This creates the possibility for projects to provide new dynamics to the program and to add value to the program objectives. For program management, this implies that while a specific project needs to be provided with freedom of action, the resulting turnover simultaneously serves to couple it with other projects in the program. In this manner, new, related and continual processes and program development can arise.


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