So you’ve heard the terms “program management” and “project management” bandied about, and you’re wondering if these terms are more-or-less synonymous. The short answer is no, they’re not.
So program management vs project management, what is the difference? In this article we’ll do a deep point-by-point comparison of the two, covering everything from scope and goals to tools and methods. By the end, you’ll be an expert on which is which.
What is the difference between program and project management?
The main difference between project and program management is that project management deals with specific projects with defined budgets, timeframes, scopes and stakeholders. At the program level, a program manager oversees a group of related projects, or a portfolio of projects along with all other company initiatives.
So, what is a program in project management?
Paraphrasing a bit from the PMI, or the Project Management Institute, a program is a company’s set of strategic goals as they determine the management of a number of related projects and initiatives.
A program is the combination of all ongoing projects, past projects that still require analysis, future projects that are yet to be initiated, and everything else a company or organization might want their employees to work on, like training programs, team building, or a system-wide repurposing and pivoting to new endeavors.
Program management vs project management comparison chart
Individual projects, individual teams
Multiple or all projects, several teams
More detailed, narrow scope, plans projects
Big picture, broad scope, plans strategy
Short-term, clear deadlines
Specific project budgets and expenses
Balance sheet for all operations and projects
Triple constraints: scope, time, money
Holistically interconnected constraints
Risk planning and QC
Audits and QA
Answers to their needs and requests
Communicates with them about need, requests and possibilities
Tools and methods
Specific methodologies and apps per project
Overall work philosophy
Project success against metrics and milestones
Coaching, head of their team
Mentorship, head of other managers
‘HOW’ the team will achieve its aims
‘WHAT’ the team or company is aiming for
A deeper look at project management vs program management
Here we will dig deeper into the project vs program comparisons made in the above table. We’ll go over each of the comparison points above individually, from both the perspective of project management and program management, and note the key differences between the two.
It’s always a good idea to begin with the quotidian. On the day-to-day level of work, the project manager oversees their project team’s task and activity workflows as they apply to the current project, and will often have their eyes glued to various dashboards and Kanbans.
The project managers will hold regular daily meetings with the team and one-on-ones with each team member perhaps on a weekly basis.
The day-to-day responsibilities that are part of the program management process are more about managing all ongoing projects in a larger portfolio.
Included in this wider project portfolio management might be retrospectives on past related projects and thinking about future projects. The overall program manager’s role also includes other company initiatives that must be managed alongside current projects.
The project scope refers to the project plan as it relates to the end product or other deliverables as well as the functionalities the results of the project promise to serve. The project management role here is to work on a narrow scope for a single project with very clearly detailed deliverables and functions.
One of the key differences for program management is that the scope is very broad and includes more than strategic planning for achieving specific deliverables. It also includes having a business strategy that is big picture and understands the relationship between the scopes of related products and projects with other organizational initiatives.
In project management, the constraint of time or scheduling is all about having very clear timeframes and deadlines which are focused on the specific project goals, milestones and deliverables. Timeframes in project management are therefore short.
In program management, there are no clear deadlines or end-dates, as the strategic goals of a program manager are more about continuously guiding workflows and projects.
Project managers must concern themselves with the budgets and expense tracking of their project team’s activities on individual or related projects. In performing the role of resource management, project managers must organize allocation according to cost constraints.
Program managers are less concerned with staying on budget for certain projects, and more concerned with maintaining balanced books between assets and liabilities as they apply across an entire portfolio of projects and operations.
The project manager must always be mindful of the triple constraints of project management that are time, money and scope, knowing that if one changes, they should be agile enough in applying change management techniques to compensate with the other constraints to keep things moving.
If you’re wondering, well what is agile project management?— it’s a mode of working that stresses flexibility, iteration, and regular phases of planning.
The program manager, on the other hand, must have a more everything-is-connected view of the entire portfolio, and they should include more constraints in their considerations, from resource planning, to quality, to employee satisfaction levels.
In order to maintain the quality of a project, a good project manager should apply the twin strategy of regular QC, or quality control, and testing. Also, having a solid risk management strategy can help ensure quality even among unexpected problems.
When you move from the project to the program or portfolio level, it’s wise to shift from regular quality control check ups to a more constant QA, or quality assurance system. To help with this, the program manager might be in charge of more occasional audits of the process or product.
The project manager will have less of an overall relationship with all the stakeholders than the program manager will have. It is the role of project management to understand the stakeholders’ needs and produce deliverables to meet them.
The program manager should have a closer relationship with all the stakeholders involved at various levels of the organization. Here, the program manager does not merely respond and react to what stakeholders want, but should have a more back-and-forth exchange to establish with them what they want, why, how to deliver it, and other factors.
Tools and methods
In project management, there is a lot of decision-making at the outset of many projects as to what tools and software everyone should use for that project. This goes for defining things like what dashboards or project templates, as well other tools to measure timelines and track things like task dependencies.
The project lead also decides on what methodologies to use, like agile, the waterfall model, or critical path.
In program management, you decide less about specific tools, apps and methods, and more about overall work philosophy, determining things like priorities, as in speedy delivery, cheapest product, or top quality, as well as how teams and departments should relate to one another.
The project manager is concerned with specific business goals in individual projects. To manage this, they should have clear metrics as to how to measure project success in real time, and to use milestones throughout the project lifecycle to assess project progress.
Program management is about overall goals and long-term company vision. Such business objectives are less about deliverables and more about imagining where the team or company can be in the future, new markets to open up, new technologies to help develop, and new areas of industry to penetrate.
The project manager leads a team or department, and they are the head of their team. There should be a lot of meetings where the team is encouraged to contribute creatively to planning. The project manager should see themselves as coaches who want to help their individual team members learn new skills and grow as workers.
The program manager might be less of a coach and more of a mentor. They cannot find the time to work intimately with every individual, and will therefore exhibit their leadership by managing other managers like project managers and product managers.
From greatly executed projects to fully successful programs, staying focused is core to meeting milestones and crushing goals. When it comes to project management, the focus is generally, how do we achieve what we planned, and how do we deliver what the end user needs or wants.
When you scale up to the program management level, the question changes from “how” to “what,” or from specific questions to an open-ended journey: What do we want to achieve? What kind of team do we want to be? What kind of world do we want to create? That’s the program manager speaking, and then the project manager says, OK, how can I help?
How managers operate in the project vs program management landscape
So that’s the story of project manager vs program manager from a definitional standpoint. But what is the difference between project management and program management when actual managers are concerned?
First of all, you can get certification to be a program manager from the PMI. The PgMP, or program manager professional, often requires a number of months as a project manager first, or for the applicant to be a certified PMP, which stands for being a project management professional.
This shows us that there is a hierarchy of management professionals with program managers having a higher degree of professional certification than project managers have.
Many managers operate in the project management arena and the program management landscape by making use of project management software.
These digital business tools help with project planning by offering templates, and staying on top of costs, timeframes and scope. If you look at our project and program management software comparison article, you will notice how some of these apps include more robust project portfolio management features for the program manager too.
Our takeaways on program vs project management
We can see that program management is like the meta-level, mega version of project management. It’s the way to lasso various projects into a cohesive business plan and articulate a sense of vision. Project management is for practical execution of individual projects, so as big as such projects can be, program management is always going to be bigger.
So now when someone strolls up and asks you “what is the difference between program management and project management?” we hope you can confidently answer. After all, you are a freshly minted expert on the subject. Now go forth and manage your project.. er, or program.
The key difference is in the focus of the management effort; project management is focused on creating a deliverable as efficiently as possible, program management is focused on maximizing the benefits realized by the organization.What is the main difference between project and programme? ›
The biggest difference is that projects deal with delivering strictly defined outputs within a specific timescale and budget, whereas programmes deal with delivering outputs that benefit the entire organisation. Put simply, projects involve 'doings things right' and programmes involve 'doing the right things'.What is the difference between program and project manager discuss the responsibilities of project managers in detail? ›
Program managers supervise groups of projects; project managers oversee individual projects. Program managers focus on long-term business objectives; project managers have short-term, concrete deliverables. Program managers are strategic; project managers are tactical.What is the relationship between program and project management? ›
While the project manager is managing multiple tasks within a project, the program manager is coordinating between related projects within a program, in order to determine which projects are working towards the same or similar goals, and which may be dependent upon others.What is the major difference between program management and multiple project management? ›
A program manager manages multiple projects and sometimes multiple programs while a project manager manages the teams responsible for fulfilling an individual project and achieving its deliverables. Program managers and project managers are both project management professionals, but their certifications are different.What is the difference between program manager and PMO? ›
In a project, the project manager is primarily responsible for the scope, cost, and timeline. In a program, the program manager will also staff a project management office (PMO) to help manage program scope, costs, and overall timeline.What is the difference between program and project give at least 2 examples? ›
A project represents a single, focused endeavour. A program is a collection of projects – together all the projects form a connected package of work. The different projects complement each other to assist the program in achieving its overall objectives.What is the difference between project and programme PDF? ›
Well, the biggest difference is that a project focuses on the delivery of strictly defined outputs within well-defined timescales and budgets whereas programme focuses on the delivery of strategic outputs to benefit the entire organisation.What is an example of program management? ›
If Maggie is managing three related projects, such as designing a new mattress, testing the new mattress, and putting together a radio advertisement to introduce the new mattress, then she is fulfilling the role of program manager.What are the 3 concepts of a program manager? ›
In particular, the program manager will need the following three qualities to be successful.
- Leadership. ...
- Organization. ...
1. The project delivers outputs, discrete parcels or "chunks" of change; the program delivers outcomes.What is program management role? ›
The programme manager is responsible for the overall integrity and coherence of the programme. They will develop and maintain the programme environment to support each individual project within it - often through an effective programme management office.Is program management higher than project management? ›
Program managers tend to have more managerial duties than project managers, as they can oversee multiple projects. This can lead to more responsibilities and higher salaries for program managers.What is program management in project management? ›
Project management involves managing the operations of an individual project within a program. Project management is a bit more tactical than program management: it mainly focuses on the operational elements of the project such as meeting deadlines, staying within budget, and completing deliverables.What is the difference between PPM and PMO? ›
While the PMO is focused on ensuring that selected projects are completed successfully leveraging the right processes, technologies, and methodologies, by contrast, PPM ensures that the organization has chosen projects that are aligned to business priorities, goals, and projected ROI.Is MS project and MPP same? ›
What is Mpp? MPP is an extension for a project file used by Microsoft Project project management software. These files store the info used by Microsoft Project to manage the assigning, tracking and reporting results on the aspects of project work, teams, schedules and finances.Can a program manager be a project manager? ›
Program managers should be strong leaders who can focus on strategy. They should have experience with budget planning, program strategy and communication across departments. In some cases, program managers start their careers as project managers. Additional job training programs are available to enhance their skills.Is a program manager more senior than a project manager? ›
Project manager and program manager are both high-level positions that offer personal and financial rewards. However, a program manager is typically a more senior role than a project manager.Do program managers have direct reports? ›
Some Project and Program Managers may have line management responsibilities for project management staff but their direct reports may not necessarily work on the same program as they do. agree that program managers seldom have direct reports in the meaning of employee assignment to a manager.What is similarity between project and program? ›
There are of course some similarities between projects and programs, namely that they are both concerned with change, that is the creation of something new, and both require the use of a team to get things done.
It provides project managers a structured way to create, execute, and finish a project. This project management process generally includes four phases: initiating, planning, executing, and closing. Some may also include a fifth “monitoring and controlling” phase between the executing and closing stages.What are the key elements of program management? ›
- Defining interfaces.
- Aligning schedules.
- Coordinating resources.
- Overall risk management.
- Joint change control.
Program management enables the organization to fund, prioritize, optimize resource capacity, and manage interdependencies and conflicts. Program managers are viewed as strategy execution leaders and have deep knowledge about current organizational capabilities.What are the 3 S's of project management? ›
Scope, schedule, cost. Good, fast, cheap.What does a program manager do all day? ›
Program managers are in charge of coordinating smaller projects with objectives that measure up to company-wide goals. This means working with project managers to ensure daily project goals are being met and bigger picture programs are on track.What skills make a good program manager? ›
- Big Picture Thinking and Selling the Vision. ...
- Superior Analytical Skills. ...
- Leadership and Teambuilding. ...
- Communication. ...
- Influencing and Negotiating. ...
- Conflict Resolution. ...
- Stakeholder Management. ...
- Planning and Resource Management.
A program is a set of instructions that are used to perform a certain task. A process is a program being executed. A program is stored in the secondary memory and has a higher lifespan when compared with the process. A process is active until the program is executed and has a short lifespan as compared to a program.What is program manager in simple words? ›
Definition: A program manager is a strategic project-management professional whose job is to help oversee and coordinate the various projects, products, and other strategic initiatives across an organization.Do you need a PMP to be a program manager? ›
INDEED YES and IT IS POSSIBLE - you can be hired as a Project Manager (PM) even without a PMP certification.Which is better PMO or project manager? ›
The Project Manager's role is higher than that of PMO and the PMO works under the Project Manager.
Team leader. The lowest level of project management does not always come with a formal title change. When organizing a workforce into smaller teams, an employer may choose one member of a team working on a project and label them as the team leader.Is project manager and PMO is same? ›
Even though they are functionally related, a project manager and a PMO are different. While a project manager is an individual taking care of a particular project from start to finish, a PMO is a team of specialists who work at an organizational level.Which is better PMO or PMP? ›
PMP is about managing a single project while PMO is about managing a group of projects (a program or a portfolio).Can a PMO become a project manager? ›
Thinking that PMO leader and Project Manager are the same roles is like reasoning that the Finance Manager role is the same as Finance Director. Yes, a project manager can evolve into a PMO leader and PMO leader can serve as a project manager for a short duration.What is another name for a PMO? ›
Project Management Office (PMO) Project Control Office. Project Management Community of Practice (PMCoP)Why is it called PMO? ›
But what does PMO mean? PMO is an acronym for Project Management Office. There are variants, as the 'P' can also stand for Portfolio or Program. People who work within a PMO are sometimes called Project Management Officers.Who is higher than a project manager? ›
The director of project management is often the highest-ranking employee in a company's project management operation. The director of program management oversees the company's big-picture planning, including all projects executed by the company.What are PMO duties? ›
Among the most common PMO functions are: ensuring Monitoring and Control of Project Execution Performance; developing Project Management Methodologies; implementing Professional PPM Tools; coordinating Program and Portfolio Management; facilitating and improving Strategic Project Management; optimizing Resource ...Is PMO a senior role? ›
Since the PMO manager position is at the senior level, it's best to have at least five years of experience working in project management. Some employers may want applicants to have experience in a supervisory role as well, since this position manages both people and projects.Do project managers report to PMO? ›
A good PMO manager oversees the team members in the project management office and takes responsibility for the quality and value of each project under its care. This involves collaboration with project managers and reporting to the executive staff of the organization.
PMO salary in India ranges between ₹ 3.3 Lakhs to ₹ 16.7 Lakhs with an average annual salary of ₹ 6.4 Lakhs.Who is below the project manager? ›
Project coordinators may work under a project manager to help with administrative tasks on a specific project. They help make sure all team members and departments have what is needed to meet the deadlines and milestones set by the project manager.Can a PMO be one person? ›
Did you know that the most common type of PMO is a PMO of one? That's right, a PMO that just has one person working within it – someone who provides a limited set of services because there is only one person to do the work.