Pracademic Program Leadership


The Firefighter’s Guide to Planning Success



Dr. Dale S. Deardorff

Engineering Management, CSUN
MSEM, California State University – Tseng College

Northridge, California, USA


Program Leadership and Program Management are often confused with typical organizational leadership and management positions based on traditional organizational challenges and opportunities. What makes the current day Program Leader and Program Manager unique is the need to provide direction and action in an expedited manner, to help resolve the constant organizational “Fires” that consume their time and efforts.

Keywords:   Program Leadership, Program Manager, Firemanship, Program Performance Loop, Situation, Plan, Result, Feedback, People Resources.


The purpose of this paper is to provide an exploration of the current challenges for Program Managers and Leaders in modern organizations based on the need for immediate action and direction. Most program managers will tell you that they feel like they have “too much on their plate” to be effective. Every day brings an avalanche of email, phone calls, text messages and meetings that make it impossible to understand accurately what is happening in a timely manner. A firefighter’s planning approach brings with it the opportunity to excel.

Program Management and Program Managers

Program management is a professional field that shadows project management, however, both fields are linked together. Program management became a clear unique entity in 2000 with the publication of the first PMI PMBOK which described a program as “a group of projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually”. This definition has incrementally evolved to “a program is defined as related projects, subsidiary programs, and program activities managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually” (PMI Global Standard, 2017).

Most modern-day Program Managers were Project Managers, and through practice and experience moved into the program management position. The primary difference between the roles is that program managers work at a strategic level where project managers work at a tactical level. The skills required to be a project manager are still required at a program manger’s level, but the skill required to plan is essential for both. If we look at an abbreviated project management timeline, we can see historically how the first project and program managers were utilized starting with the pyramid construction in 2570 BC in Egypt.

Figure 1.0 Abbreviated Project Management Timeline

Abbreviated Project Management Timeline (Haughey, 2021)

  • 2570 BC – The Pharaohs built the pyramids, and even today archaeologists argue about how they achieved this. Ancient records show there were “managers” for each of the four faces of the Great Pyramid with responsibilities for their completion. This required a great degree of planning, execution and control.
  • 208 BC – The first emperor of a unified China, Qin Shi Huang, managed the Great Wall of China during the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC). Historical data identifies the labor force was broken into three groups (soldiers, ordinary people, criminals).
  • 1917 – The Gantt chart was developed by Henry Gantt (1861-1919) which was used on the Hoover Dam Project starting in 1931. At that time, the scheduling diagram was considered a radical idea but today it is essential for project and program managers.

From 1931 to today, the timeline has seen the addition of Agile, Lean methodologies and acceptance of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity), which changed the interdependencies framework for managing interrelated groupings of work. The previously presented abbreviated timeline shows where we have come from but does not provide predictions for where we will go in the future. So, let’s fast forward to 2023. Today, program management and program managers are very common in matrix organizations. They fit with modern day publications and adhere to the methodologies described in the Program Management Life Cycle.


To read entire paper, click here

Author’s Note: The Program Planning Performance Loop development and flow diagrams were sponsored by the Rocky Peak Leadership Center. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Dale S. Deardorff, Rocky Peak Leadership Center, 11238 Sierra Pass Place, Chatsworth, California, CA 91311, United States. Email: dale.deardorff@csun.edu

How to cite this paper: Deardorff, D. S.  (2023). Pracademic Program Leadership: The Firefighter’s Guide to Planning Success; PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue II, February. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/pmwj126-Feb2023-Deardorff-firefighters-guide-to-planning-success.pdf

About the Author

Dr. Dale S. Deardorff

California, USA


Dr. Dale S. Deardorff worked for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems and Space Propulsion Development divisions as a Project and Program manager for over 20 years. He worked for the Lockheed Burbank “Skunk” works and Aircraft division for almost 10 years and a high technology Valencia California start up for a couple of years.  This 30 plus years’ experience is a “Pracademic” blending of commercial, military, government, NASA and high technology organizations.  Dale has taught Project Management “on-line” for multiple universities as an adjunct instructor since 2003 and continues to contribute to project management methodologies and philosophies as a current thought leader.

He created the Rocky Peak Leadership Center in 2010 and has helped modern organizations as an enterprise and executive consultant in the areas of thinking methodologies, Innovation and leadership training and facilitation. Dr. Deardorff volunteers with youth leadership programs and supports local youth training in the areas of personal mastery and effective collaboration techniques.

Rocky Peak Leadership Center – www.rockypeakLC.com

Dale S Deardorff contact – d.s.deardorff@gmail.com

To view other works by Dr. Deardorff, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/dr-dale-s-deardorff/