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Differenciating Between Program vs. Project Management

Sometimes, people tend to confuse or even interchange the words “project” and “program.” Though, they are related, a program is different from project. Today, I’ll be be differentiating a project from a program and how project management differ from progr management.

What is a program and how is it different from a project?

Projects are temporary, one-off undertakings. They are generally bound by cost, resource, budget, and time constraints. Projects have clear end dates and short-term goals that give way to tangible outcomes or deliverables.

Programs are composed of several underlying, interconnected projects. These projects complement and build off one another to achieve a larger, long-term business objective. A successful program drives strategic benefits and organizational growth, rather than a single, tangible deliverable.

In simple terms, a project is a discrete set of activities with a beginning and end, whereas a program is a collection of projects.

The table above shows more difference between a project and a program.

A program can be the compared to the bigger picture while a project is a subset of pixels that make up the picture.

Knowing the difference between them; you’ll, of course, expect that managing a project would differ from the way you manage a project.

Who is a project manager and how does he differ from a program manager?

A program manager manages multiple projects, and sometimes multiple programs while a project manager manages the teams responsible for fulfilling the project and achieving its deliverables.

A project manager’s responsibility differs from that of a program manager.

A Project manager responsibilities include :

  • Managing the project, including project scope, schedule and resources.
  • Assembling and managing the project team and their performance.
  • Delivering successful project outcomes (ensuring it is on time and under budget).

While a Program Manager responsibilities are :

  • Overseeing multiple projects
  • Managing multiple project teams (and sometimes project managers)
  • Delivering successful program outcomes.

Generally speaking, a program manager has broader responsibilities than the project manager. Therefore, the tools they use are focused on either the macro, for the program manager, or the micro, for the project manager.

Program management is the active process of managing multiple projects or a series of projects as part of an overall program. Project management, on the other hand, is the active process of creating plans and managing resources in order to accomplish a specific assignment or project.

As you can imagine, both of these management roles have a lot in common and require many of the same skills. In both roles, you have to manage people well. You have to motivate teams and individuals. You have to be able to resolve conflict and manage money effectively.

Program management is governance intensive. Program managers tend to interface with boards of directors and advisory committees while project managers tend to interface more with their technical teams and with their stakeholders or clients.

Though not a program manager, the project manager has a lot to do with what’s happening on the program, such as delivering the project on time and within the allotted budget. Therefore, it’s important not only to know the differences between the two roles, but where they overlap.

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