Program Management VS. Project Management

Program Management VS. Project Management

Program Management and Project Management are interchangeably used by organizations to refer to various initiatives that they run. They may sound similar but there are quite a bit of distinct differences between the two. The differences must be well understood to ensure proper implementation and benefit realization to the optimum.

In this article we will go over what exactly does program and project management entail, what are the differences, how similar they are, their specific benefits and the key roles in terms of Program Manager and Project Manager

Understanding the Two

We all know that PMI has very clearly articulated that:

Projects are “endeavours, temporary in nature, have a defined start, middle & end and have a defined objective to be met which is often a product or a service.”

And, Project Management is “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”

Projects are usually short term and quick measures that are deployed to achieve quick results. Their goals are always very tangible and once achieved the project team is dismantled and released for deployment to other projects. Each project is unique in its team composition, time-frame and expected outputs.

This also tells us that projects are very tactical in nature and address an immediate or impending business need.

Project Management is more about delivering a product or service within the set budget, timelines and agreed quality levels. It deals with the practical purposes in terms of execution and meeting goals.

Now many a times, there are multiple projects that are run simultaneously. Many related and some unrelated. If you take a closer look at the related projects, you will find them to be meeting an overarching organizational goal.

All such related projects are usually clubbed together to what is known as a “Program”.

Programs are run to meet the vision and mission of an organization. They are highly strategic and the benefits are realized over long-term. They shape the future of the company and the industry alike. E.g. Launch of Touchscreen Smartphones.

Programs are a group of projects that are similar or complement each other and are run in a coordinated and sequential manner to obtain long term strategic vision of the company. E.g. Digital transformation of the company.

Programs invariably have an impact on the overall existing business processes, company policies and cultural changes most of the times. Imagine the onset of Cloud Services, Dev Ops, and Agile etc. These cannot be run or achieved by projects.

Project Manager and Program Manager

Two of the most defining roles in the business world today. Both are very significant and high in demand and at times at par with the modern technological roles at the moment.

To start with, it is a given that Project Managers deal with individual projects where as a Program Manager deals with a range of projects and leverages his team of Project Managers in the pursuit of the strategic vision.

Therefore, their roles though similar to some extent have some major and varied differences.

Project Manager

A Project Manager is always tasked with ensuring deliverability of the project goals. He is heavily involved with the daily affairs of the project:

  • Project Planning
  • Task Estimation
  • Task Execution
  • Time & Resource Management
  • Manage Project Risks
  • End to end project communication

It is evident that, project manager’s role is highly functional, time bound and very dynamic as he shifts from one project to another and more often than not the deliverables are unique across his projects and has no direct or implied connection.

Program Manager

Program Managers have a more intense role to play when compared with a typical project manager. As we know, their roles is to deliver a vision their audience is highly different that of the project manager’s.

Program Managers heavily interact with

  • The C-Suite team of the company (CEO, CIO, CTO, VPs & Directors)
  • Cross-Department Stakeholders
  • Business Sponsor(s)

Given the nature of the programs, the Program Manager is tasked with

  • defining and planning the organization wide strategy
  • convincing and building consensus among the Senior Leadership teams
  • resolving and managing conflicts among cross-department stakeholders
  • dealing with stakeholder expectations
  • enabling and influencing decision making at the highest table

Program Managers are not concerned with the individual task completion or timelines. Neither are they concerned with budgets of just one project. They have to look everything in entirety all the time. They are likely to dive in when a project presents itself to have a negative impact on the overall program implementation and delivery. Program Managers are more inclined to see how all the related projects stack up to the ultimate organizational goal. They are more of a “Chief Architect” in charge of the castle they are building. Not engaged in getting the brick and mortar mixed or the landscaping but ensure all of these are done and are done as planned.

How the two work together?

Program Manager has a direct interest in the success of all those related projects that make up the program. Therefore, he is the invisible protector for the project manager and the project team.

A program manager has more visibility and is better positioned to address various conflicts that arise between these inter-related projects.

  • mentor the project managers
  • visibility to inter-project dependencies
  • stake claim and manage distribution of inter-project resources
  • review progress of the project group
  • help with budget and time issues for individual projects
  • leverages Project Managers for timely reporting across projects

Project Managers on the other hand play their part by ensuring the projects are in-sync with the program and its defined budget and timelines. Many a times, the same project manager is charged with other projects of the program and works closely with the program manager.

Project Managers focus on

  • resource alignment and resource skilling to get the job done
  • decide what needs to be outsourced or develop skills in-house
  • keeping resource burnout to the minimal
  • aligning the project team with the project’s goal
  • ensuring project team is aware of their roles and responsibilities
  • keeping the team motivated and productive

All in all, the Program Manager is an extrapolated version of the project manager with a high strategic and greater responsibility quotient.

Who do YOU want to be?

We have so far seen the key responsibilities of both the project and program manager and how they are stacked between them as well as in the overall organization scheme of things. If you are a doer, go-getter and a fire-fighter project manager is more your thing.

At the same time if you are a cool & patient species who likes to build things, are able to visualize for the future, works well with people and diversity; then being a program manager would seem more rewarding.

Parting words – “You cannot go wrong with either of the two!”