Program Manager vs. Project Manager: What You Need to Know


Program Manager vs. Project Manager

Before we embark on understanding the differences between a project manager and a program manager, we need to understand the meaning of a program and a project. The following are the main differences between a project and a program:

1.    The Differences Between a Project and a Program

a) The Structure

A project has everything well defined. Moreover, the project charter makes it possible to specify its scope and its objectives, while a program tends to have a much higher degree of uncertainty. The program team is larger as long as it supervises and coordinates several projects and includes project teams.

b) Effort

This is the most important difference between a program and a project. A project represents a one-off effort, even if it can last for months. The project team works to achieve a common goal. The program is different: it is a collection of projects whose combined efforts constitute the overall effort of the program. However, there is often interdependence between the projects of a program, which requires an additional effort of the program director who must coordinate everything with the directors and project managers.

c) Duration

While some projects can last for years, the majority take less time, while programs last much longer because they have to deliver more.

d) Benefits

A project team works to produce tangible deliverables, a product, an application, etc. While a program team works to produce results, which may or may not be tangible. The benefits of a program are not only the sum of the benefits of its projects but also the implications of this for the growth and development of the business.

e) Success

Project success is measured by “product and project quality, budget compliance, and customer satisfaction.” Furthermore, the success of a program is understood as “the degree to which the program meets the needs and benefits for which it is carried out.” The most important thing for a program is the benefits (results of actions, behaviors, products or services that provide utility to the organization) that it will deliver to its stakeholders, in the form of business value.

f) Management

The project manager’s job is to “coordinate the project team” to achieve the project objectives. The program manager’s mission is to “coordinate program staff and project managers” providing global vision and leadership. Managing a program implies the coordination of several “managers” (or project managers). As the program has more components, more managers will be in charge and coordinating and managing all the project managers becomes a greater challenge.

g) Scope

The projects have defined objectives and the scope “is developed gradually throughout the project life cycle”. In a program, you have a scope that is bigger and that provides significant benefits. This has a connection with the first point, but it raises another question: what is the difference between a deliverable and a benefit? Well, a “deliverable” is any single, verifiable product, result, or ability to perform a service that needs to be produced to complete a process, phase, or project.

As we have already discussed the concept of benefits, we will make this point clear with an example: if you find yourself in a technological challenge, a project deliverable could be an application module, while a technological program benefit would be a saving of 20% in the production costs of the company. Beyond the substantial differences between a project and a program, there is frequently confusion among organizations between the roles of the project manager and that of the program manager.

Sometimes the program manager is seen only as an “elderly” project manager and therefore with considerable experience, or as a coordinator of all projects with a single client, or even as a point of arrival in the project manager career. In reality, these are profoundly different roles which certainly require different levels of seniority in the profession but which are substantiated in decidedly differentiated tasks.



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2. What is Project Management?

Project management is a subset of program management and serves as the bottom last level in the program management hierarchy, a hierarchy consisting of a lower, middle, and high-level manager who ensures that the company meets its vision. As part of program management, project management ensures that the team successfully carries out a series of tactical objectives in order to achieve a project in one go.

Considering the costs that are involved, a project manager usually over-see the various tactical steps that are necessary to initiate some of these tasks. This starts with planning, organizing, managing as well as allocating company resources, including staff and technology, as he leads the way. Project to completion based on a timeline.

An example of project management are; construction of a new building or implementing a new company software product. Without project management, task execution would be nothing more than a series of negotiations without clear goals and objectives leading to the desired end result.

Project Management Tasks

A project manager and his team begin by developing a tactical plan to start and complete a new project. The team establishes the plan around time constraints, scope, and costs that must be met in order to carry the project from start to completion. The team should define the goals and objectives, identify the tasks to complete them, request and allocate the necessary resources to complete the project and the deadlines to complete each phase of the project.

As the project’s work commences and proceeds in stages, the team has to fine-tune the required plan so as to deal with any changes or problems that may arise and to ensure that the project meets all demands. Upon completion, the project manager and his team review the strategy then give a report of final results to a superior or maybe a program manager.

According To PMBOK, Project Management is based on 10 areas of knowledge:

  • Integration management
  • Scope management
  • Time management
  • Cost management
  • Quality management
  • Resource management
  • Communication management
  • Risk management
  • Purchase management
  • Stakeholder management

3. What is Program Management?

Program management is a broader framework that includes project management as a means of carrying out the strategic plans and objectives established for the economy in general. The general and organizational strategies and projects developed within the framework of program management across various functions of an organization such as finance, marketing, and technology, with the aim of achieving the desired results of a company.

Unlike project management, which focuses only on a one-time goal, program management has a broader hierarchical focus, with different teams working on the allocation, utilization, and management of project resources. Company crosswise.

Program Management Hierarchy

Program management is based on a three-level hierarchy. The bottom level of the hierarchy is made up of project managers assigned to deal with various projects related to the program. The middle hierarchy is made up of program managers who oversee the work of project managers.

Program managers also set and review goals, coordinate activities across different projects, and ensure that the work done achieves the strategies established by top-level managers, program sponsors, and program steering committee.

The program sponsor and its steering committee (or senior management) define and direct the implementation of the program’s business and technology strategies in general. Administratively, they provide and interpret policies to create sustainable momentum for the entire program, and they review progress and results to ensure that the objectives achieved to meet the overall strategic vision of the program.

Wide vs. Specific

Program management is technical in nature and is based on the company’s global vision to achieve the company’s strategic objectives. It makes sure that all work is business-feasible, that risk is distributed equally among all projects to ensure their commercial and technical success, and that common processes are used in all projects.

Program management, unlike the project, focuses on finding ways to make the management of a set of projects more efficient and is therefore based on performance domains. These are:

  • Alignment of program strategies.
  • Management of program benefits.
  • Stakeholder participation management
  • Governance of the program.
  • Program life cycle management.

One way of saying it, the program manages the strategy to achieve the objectives of the managed projects and the organization, and the projects manage the tactics to keep the projects within time, cost and quality. Organizations today use program management as a way to improve their skills to deliver a benefit in the form of business value. In turn, they must address the need for change by creating strategic business initiatives to produce results or change the organization, its products or its services.

4.  The Differences in Work Function between a Project Manager and a Program Manager

A program manager must coordinate all the project managers of the projects that make up the program by adopting practices that complement those that each project manager adopts on his project according to the standard described in the program management section.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Program Manager

  • Responsible for managing multiple projects and, in some cases, multiple programs. He also interacts with various teams that carry out projects related to his own but does not necessarily manage them.
  • Can be seen as the visionary leader for the overall program, thus planning program goals and objectives to determine how they will impact your business.
  • Plan and define the list of dependent projects that must be completed to achieve the general objective.
  • Deals with more strategic tasks, so it works with the organization to align the program with the organization’s business strategy and strategic objectives.

An example: if the program is a marketing campaign, some of the possible objectives that the program manager could define is the generation of potential clients, increasing brand awareness and expanding the target market.

The designated person must have the necessary seniority in the company so as to assume the responsibilities associated with that role. Some of the qualities he should have are:

  • Leadership, interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Ability to create a sense of community among project team members.
  • Good knowledge of techniques for planning, supervising and controlling programs.

His duties extend beyond the completion of individual projects and he analyzes the long-term benefits of the entire program.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Project Manager

The project manager or project manager is responsible for a specific project, members of the team, of what is happening, and whether they are fulfilling their activities.

This professional directs the operations of a project within the program, coordinates time, budget, resources, and delegates tasks to the entire team. In addition, you must inform the program manager of the progress and changes made in the initial project plan.

A project manager can manage one or more projects. His focus on the project life cycle has to do with the scope, timeline, and resources available.

The project manager’s role is more tactical: it focuses primarily on the operational elements of the project, how to meet deadlines, stay on budget, and complete deliveries.

  • The project manager must have the following skills:
  • Must be able to lead work teams and coordinate them.
  • To be organized. Coordinating different teams requires a complex organization.
  • Good communicator. So as to maintain active contact with those involved in the project.
  • Ability to visualize possible problems. You should be aware of the different stages and determine if modifications are necessary to meet the deadlines.
  • Some of his responsibilities are:
  • Present the project to the client and interpret their needs to communicate them to the team and be able to adapt the project.
  • Once the project is approved, organize the tasks in a calendar that reflects the specific work times for each team.
  • Set goals with deadlines and detailed actions to meet on time.
  • Receive customer feedback and transfer it to the appropriate person.
  • Negotiate with the client to reach an agreement in case there is a problem or delay.
  • Monitor compliance with the working hours of each team.
  • Suggest ways to solve the problem in case of errors or delays.

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