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Have you ever heard about the Beer Distribution Game? It’s really stressful to play it when you have big inventory and the demand is decreasing. Potentially, you can finish the game with huge inventories or huge backlog. Personally, I lived some key principles of supply chain management when I played this game. However, I have discovered something harder and more complex than operating a beer supply chain: Building a real supply chain by developing a group of projects, simultaneously.

A new capacity in your company business model could be developed through a group of projects (such as infrastructure or information technology projects). In this case, it is natural to think in a project and program management approaches to assist the implementation of each component of this supply chain. In Figure 1, you can see a very simplified version of a real supply chain broken down in 5 projects.

The development of each project in this supply chain had different levels of technical complexity and required different specialised expertise. Also, there were multiple organisational inter-dependencies between these projects. As a signal, in execution, projects experienced different levels of progress but program benefits were only achieved when the last project was completed. Thus, program and project performance have to be balanced to achieve corporate and business benefits.


Figure 1 Projects in a supply chain

To survive in this complex environment, program managers need to develop integrative thinking skills, leading the equilibrated development of inter-dependent projects. In particular, visualizing systems, connecting people and creating desired futures skills could help to improve the program performance.

Visualizing Systems

In this context, program managers must have a clear picture about how all project deliverables from each project phase are integrated and connected to obtain a supply chain system. In this supply chain model, all project’s products are connected by the availability of inputs and outputs. For instance, the design and development of the project 3 require some information from the additional input and output capacities of the new manufacturing process associated with project 5 (please see again the Figure 1). On the other hand, the expected global behaviour of the supply chain is a key issue in the development of each single project. Then, program managers could define the sequence of project deliveries to change the supply chain capacity in an equilibrated way. This is possible by using an explicit supply chain model that allows understanding the effect of project 1 to 5 on the supply chain performance. All project managers use a part of this model to complete their own project. But, project inter-dependencies should be identified, managed and coordinated to achieve the strategic and business benefits of the program.

Connecting People

Building or increasing capacity of a supply chain through projects requires the integration of both project teams and functional supporting departments to obtain a successful program. For instance, project teams 1 and 2 would share resources, lessons, and best practices to obtain synergy and improve the program performance. So, program managers as integrative thinkers encourage the cross-functional communication between different teams (clients, providers, project team member, operators, procurement specialists and others). However, this needs specific rules of interaction to avoid poor performance and chaos. For instance, frequently progressing meeting could be held with key team members, project and program managers to discuss and analyse the performance reports and balanced project and program management perspective in the decision process. In these meetings:

• Decisions to re-allocate specialized human resources from project 3 to project 4 (as an example) could be made.

• Conflict between project and program management perspectives could be solved.

• Lessons from project and program experience could be captured and transferred to future projects and programs.

Creating Desired Futures

Program managers have to find a creative way to articulate the project execution into the supply chain in order to establish an effective strategy to achieve global benefits. In this sense, project and program planners could use connecting maps, causal loop diagrams and supply chain models to support program managers. For example, in Figure 1, operational managers could require to change the scope of project 4 because marketing manager forecasted market changes or design team leaders want to include a new technology in project 5 to satisfy new stakeholder’s expectations. In this new situation, the capacity of program managers to understand the effect of changes on the program performance is a success criterion. An image of the desired behaviour for this supply chain could help project and program manager to deal with the ambiguity and uncertainty of this multi-project environment.

From a practical perspective, the program master plan must describe how to achieve the desired future by using:

• A program master schedule that include project inter-dependencies, resources assignment and product milestones.

• A standard change management procedure including change request templates

• Stakeholder management tools

• A program decision process to obtain global benefits.

At the end of the day, the five projects included in this program could be cancelled if the program vision can be achieved by optimising operational team work instead of building more infrastructures.


One way to be a successful program manager is to be focused on visualizing system, connecting people and creating desired futures. This approach is useful in programs that support supply chain developments because guide the decision process to find innovative ways to achieve business and strategic benefits.

See you later