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Difference between project management and program management

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I have looked everywhere beyond the "a program is a group of projects" answer, and still I can't find a decent and exhaustive comparison between project and program management. Is there an experienced program manager on this website who can explain the differences between the two?
asked 11 years ago by anonymous

1 Answer

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Well, besides that a program consists of a group of several related projects, there are many differences between Program Management and Project Management:

- Program Management is responsible for ensuring project alignment with the organization's business objectives. Project management is responsible for getting the project done according to the organization's guidelines imposed by the PMO.

- Program Management does not care about the details of the projects, it cares only about the following:
    - Is the project facing serious problems (risks/issues/conflicts/scope creep...)?
    - Is the project on time/on schedule/on scope?

While Project Management also cares about the above, it is much more detailed oriented when it comes to the project:
    - Are the tasks being finished on time?
    - Are there any difficulties that are being faced by the team members to finish their tasks?
    - Are the team members well motivated?
    - etc...

- Program Management is responsible for ensuring that projects do not conflict with each other, that there is no resource starvation (resource starvation means that a project does not have enough resources to work on, while another one has more resources than it actually needs). In project management, conflict management is restricted to the project level (conflicts between the team members, conflicts between the stakeholders about the project, etc...)

- Program Management's vision of the program is broad and strategic, Project Management vision's of the project is narrow and "local".

- Program Management manages a program (I know, duh!) which can be considered as a permanent endeavor (since there is always a possibility that another project will be added into the program when others are finished or when more resources and funding are available). Project management manages a project (again, duh!), which is, by definition, a temporary endeavor (anything that is not temporary cannot be called a project).

- Program Management is responsible for allocating budgets to the projects. Project management is responsible for initiating, planning, and executing the project within the already defined budget.

- Most "reliable" sources state that it is within the realm of project management to identify stakeholders, this is not fully correct. In fact, Program Management is responsible for identifying the top stakeholders for the organization and for every project. Project Management is responsible for managing these stakeholders (doing a stakeholder analysis, managing their expectations, etc...), as well as identifying less important stakeholders.

- Program Management is responsible for taking drastic decisions about projects, including canceling projects, reducing funds/resources, etc... Additionally, while it is the job of the PPM (Project and Portfolio Management) to prioritize and select projects, Program Management performs project prioritization as well, but only once projects are initiated to ensure the company's best interests are served. Project Management, on the other hand, ensures that the project is not killed!

- Risk Management in Program Management is done at the program level, which means that the risks managed are those that may threaten the company's continuity. Such risks may include conflicts between projects, catastrophic risks, risks associated with the geo-politics, and other high level risks. Risk Management in Project Management is done at the project level, which means that managed risks are only those that may threaten the project. Such risks include: supply risks, resource risks, technical risks, logistical risks, etc...

- Program Management is responsible for allocating project managers to projects, Project Management is responsible for allocating team members to the project.

- Reports created in Program Management are strategic (and often critical) to the organization and are of concern to everyone in the top management. Reports created in Project Management only concern the stakeholders of the project (and sometimes not even).

Now here are the differences between a program manager and a project manager:

- The program manager is responsible for managing a group of project managers. The project manager is responsible for managing a group of team members.
- The project manager reports to the program manager. The program manager reports to top management. It might be that in very large organizations, the project manager reports to another, more senior project manager, who then reports to the program manager.
- The program manager is often a senior executive, the project manager is not even considered a manager.
- The project manager is paid a fraction of the salary of the program manager.
- The program manager has an immense formal authority in the organization, on each program, and on each project. The project manager (typically) does not have formal authority even on his own project.
answered 11 years ago by MaplePM (46,940 points)

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