What is the difference between project and program management?

Many organizations still struggle to answer this question. While the roles of the project and product manager vary from company to company, there are some unique characteristics that characterize the two.

A lot of project managers look up to program managers and aspire to be in their shoes one day. In order to be able to get to that level, project managers, as well as their organizations, must clearly understand the general responsibilities that are expected from each role. Organizations can then communicate them to their employees, allowing them to train themselves and set goals accordingly.

What is Project Management?

By definition, project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities, to meet project requirements.

The job focus of the project manager is both narrower and deeper than that of the program manager. Project managers are responsible for the project, the project team, and the outcomes the team is working on.

What is a project?

Projects include:

  • A sequence of tasks
  • Defined outcomes, and deliverables
  • Defined beginning, end, schedule, and approach
  • Planned budgets
  • Resources specifically allocated to the work
  • Organized approach

What is Program Management?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines program management as:

“A group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Programs may include elements of related work outside scope of the discrete projects in the program.” – PMBOK pg 368

What is a program?

According to Wiki Answers, “ a program is something which delivers a massive piece of functionality. Within this program will be a large number of individual projects each of which will deliver a specific piece of the functionality. When all these projects have delivered, all their pieces will make the big deliverable.”

Programs include:

  • A single product or deliverable
  • Many product deliverables
  • Usually focuses on business objectives and delivering value
  • Benefit management

Project management vs Program management

Project managers:

  • Focus on content
  • Manage projects
  • Focus on scope, schedules, resources
  • Perform more technical tasks
  • Handle risk management
  • Deal with project requirements
  • Are responsible for ensuring projects get completed on time, within budget

Program managers:

  • Focus on context
  • Manage portfolios
  • Focus on people, politics and negotiating
  • Perform more strategic tasks
  • Handle change management (program and environmental changes)
  • Deal with business strategies and objectives
  • Are responsible for maximizing ROI and value delivery
  • Even though there are many similarities between the project manager and program manager roles, being able to tell what sets them apart can help companies be more productive and deliver better results.

    Related blog posts:
    What is Project Management? – A Video Infographic
    Project Management Quotes that Will Entertain You
    Waterfall vs. Agile


    1. Aaratee

      It helped me alot in stepping ahead towards my horizon 🙂
      Grazie 🙂

    2. Inambao

      This is a very elaborate post. Thanks for sharing Kimberley!!

    3. marion

      thanks, this has helped in drawing a better distiction.

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