Project vs Program Mgmt
Mentoring and Training
copyright 2007-2010, Project
PROGRAM vs. PROJECT
I've been both a project manager and a program
manager. There was a time I wasn't really sure what the difference was.
I am now comfortable with my answer, but I suspect there is not yet true consensus in
I asked my friendly search engine for the
definition of program management and got back a wide range of answers,
that have common themes, but seem loosely coupled at best.
Definitions of Program
I found these definitions on the Web.
Note: Some of these sites may no longer be available.
Delivering a project or projects from
concept through completion using a team of experts whose sole focus is
obtaining the owner’s goals. Program management combines the ability and
resources to define, plan, implement, and integrate every aspect of the
Activities that include planning, monitoring, and reporting of ongoing
activities, cost/schedule tracking, clerical, other administrative
support, and grants to states and localities.
Formerly available on a US Dept of Energy site that is no longer
The process whereby a single leader exercises centralized authority and
responsibility for planning, organizing, staffing, controlling, and
leading the combined efforts of participating/assigned civilian and
military personnel and organizations, for the management of a specific
defense acquisition program or programs, throughout the system life
The coordinated management of a portfolio of projects to achieve a set
of business objectives is called program management. Or, a program might
refer to an ongoing set of activities internal to the organization, for
example, a Total Quality Management program, workplace safety program,
supplier development program, etc. Source:
Understands how programs are designed to use appropriate service
strategies to meet program goals. Understands how budgets are developed
and costs are tracked for individual programs. Is able to use indicators
and established instruments to document program performance and
Program management is the process of managing multiple on going
projects. An example would be that of designing, manufacturing and
providing support infrastructure for an automobile make. This requires
hundreds, or even thousands, of separate projects. In an organization or
Enterprise, Program Management also reflects the emphasis on
coordinating and prioritizing resources across projects, departments,
and entities to insure that resource contention is managed from a global
The International Association of Project
and Program Management defines both program and project management.
Program Management: Program management is the active process of
managing multiple global workstreams or projects which need to meet or
exceed business goals according to a pre-determined methodology or
life-cycle. Program management focuses on tighter integration, closely
knit communications and more control over program resources and
Project Management: Project management is the centralized
management by an individual to plan, organize, control and deploy key
milestones, deliverables and resources from conception through
retirement, according to customer goals. Often project managers are
skilled to use specific templates and techniques to manage through the
preferred project life-cycle." [IAPPM-2003]
The common threads in these definitions include:
- Multiple Projects: A program
consists of a series of related and possibly interdependent projects that
meet an overarching objective.
- Planning: Any program or project
requires planning. A project has its own schedule, its own
milestones. A program may entail coordination and between and
scheduling of a subset of the
projects that make up the program.
- Monitoring: Management must monitor
progress, issues, and risks ... regardless of whether at the project level,
or the program level. Program management entails monitoring at a
- Reporting: As with monitoring, there
must be reporting at both the project and the program level. Program
management consolidates the reports from component projects comprising the
program for its reporting to higher level management.
- Budget: In some organizations,
projects are responsible for their own budgets but often, the project
manager is working against tasks and deadlines, with budgets that were set
at higher levels. Programs are more often, but not always, inclusive
of budget management.
So, what are the differences between project
management and program
management? I believe there are two key characteristic differences that
distinguish program management from project management:
- Programs encompass a series of projects that
in aggregate achieve an overarching set of objectives, where projects have
specific and more singular objectives. In this sense, the difference
is driven by scope and scale.
- Program management involves more than
oversight of a set of projects. It includes application of common
standards and processes to the execution of projects.
I have also worked for an organization that
chartered the Program Management Office (PMO) to report to technology, with
responsibility for process definition for the software development organization.
This didn't work well, as processes must extend beyond the technology
organization, and should not be dictated by technology to business units. That
said, Program Management should work to support and enforce process adherence
across all organizations of the business.
If Program Management is to be charged with overall process definition and / or
improvement, the PMO should not be reporting exclusively into Technology.
Program Management extends beyond technology
practices. Program Management includes:
- Oversight of related projects.
- Establishment of business and technical
- Audit and enforcement of established
- Acceptance, analysis, and implementation of
- Measurement of existing processes against
Management, on the other hand, focuses on a deliverable within the framework
of established project management processes as established by the Program
Management office (PMO). This is true, whether the project is a business
or a technical project, and whether the project is related to one or more other
projects, or is a stand-alone project.
In summary, Program Management addresses the
management of project management, setting up processes, monitoring and measuring
project results, and coordinating related projects.