What Is the Difference Between Project Management and Program Management?

What Is the Difference Between Project Management and Program Management?

Many people ask “What’s the difference between project management and program management?” In the article, we will review the differences and help those who are looking to hire a project manager or project management consultant, that what you might need is a program manager.

Before choosing a project manager or project management consultant, know the differences between project management and program management. As while they sound similar, they have their differences in their duties, responsibilities, and scope of work that you need to learn about in leading a project/program.

So, what does a project look like, and what does a program look like? We’ll answer this question and more in this article.  According to the Project Management Institute,  program management is a group of projects that are managed in a coordinated manner to achieve goals not available from managing them as a single unit.

Effective program management also provides a system geared at controlling large endeavors’ financial, strategic, and operational risks.

A project within a specific program is assigned to a team and is managed by an independent project manager. However, all the projects have the vision to achieve results tied to a specific goal.  Thus, the multiple projects run separately, but they depend on each other.

All projects envision to achieve the same goal. However, program management is more than just a collection of projects because its goal is to employ a strategic execution through organizing people and teams from different departments with a shared purpose.

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What is a project?

It refers to a single endeavor that drives towards a goal or a tangible output.   It is smaller and typically with resource, date, and cost constraints and is short-term, unlike a program that focuses on carrying out an overarching company goal.

Project management professionals deliver a project aligned with a specific budget and within a timeframe. They coordinate the budget, human and material resources, and team member’s time and tasks.

They also report to the program manager on the progress and any adjustments made to the initial plan.  That said, project management focuses primarily on the project’s functional elements, such as completing deliverables and meeting deadlines.

what is a program?

It refers to multiple projects that are managed and delivered as one package; thus, it’s a group of projects with a single goal. 

It is a large project composed of smaller projects that depend on each other and is often managed by a program management team.

The projects are bundled if it would outweigh the benefits of handling a single project unit. Each member handles a task/project, and the program manager oversees the projects under the program, ensuring it achieves desired outcomes.   

A program manager should articulate the objectives and goals of the program and the ways it will affect the organization. Thus, the program manager must focus on methods, strategies, implementation, and project delegation.

To reach an overall goal, he also maps out and defines the dependent projects, which must be completed to reach a single goal. And to launch a successful program are important functions/tasks, such as planning execution and status reporting.

Project Management vs. Program Management

In terms of structure, projects have exact and specific components, and their goals and scope are well-defined.  On the other hand, a program is less clear-cut. A program team is also larger because it involves project managers and their team members.

A project is a focused and single endeavor, while a program is composed of smaller projects that form a single work package. Again, these projects are dependent on and complement each other to help deliver the program’s goal. To ensure smooth progress, project managers work with the relevant project manager if projects overlap. A project might not take long to complete, while others may take several years.  Some may be broken down or organized into multiple phases. 

On the other hand, a program takes a long completion time because it comprises several projects as deliverables. Thus, most programs are organized into several phases.

project management contractor focuses on a tangible output, like what you gained in the project’s completion, but a program focuses on typically not tangible outcomes.  The benefits to gain from a program depend on the benefits obtained from the projects within it.

Project management is about creating plans and managing resources to accomplish a goal or project. It’s a scheduled undertaking for creating a product/service, while program management is about creating and handling several projects related to and dependent on each other.

The project management team works to identify the resources, scope, and time constraints involved in the project and then plan and report the project’s delivery. The constraints are reviewed while the project’s in progress and then will finally review and report the project’s accomplishment at its close.

Whereas the program management team identifies the mission, projects involved, and it’s close and offers support for the projects’ requirements. The team also monitors the program plan while tracking information within projects and reviews and documents the project once it’s completed.

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Responsibilities: Program Manager vs. Project Manager

The program manager has more responsibilities than a project management contractor has. The prior use programs on the macro, while the latter uses tools on the micro. Besides, a program manager handles multiple projects or programs, while a program manager manages his team to fulfill a project and achieve its specific deliverables.

Project manager responsibilities

• Manages a project’s resources, schedule, and scope

• Delivers successful project outcomes to ensure it’s within the budget and on time

• Assembles and manages his team members’ performance

Program manager responsibilities

• Supervises multiple projects

• Delivers program outcomes

• Manages different project teams and project managers

A program manager is more strategic in deliverables and thinking, while a project manager works on a day-to-day operation or task management on a cellular level.   So, while the two roles might sound the same, they are two different positions.

In summary, a program manager supervises multiple projects, and each project manager oversees the assigned project. Project managers focus on concrete and short-term deliverables, while program managers focus on long-term business objectives.

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