Project Management

Program vs. Project management: NOT the same

By on July 21, 2017

Program management is the process of managing several related projects, often with the intention of improving an organisation’s performance. In practice & in its aims it is closely related to systems engineering, industrial engineering, change management & business transformation.(Wikipedia)

Program management is a sort of mysterious discipline, for many reasons. Some of them being

  • it usually exists in companies that have complex processes/projects to manage the business
  • there is an overlap between activities in program management vis-a-vis project & change management
  • lack of prominent certifications, courses & study material
  • project managers, founders, executives tend to manage programs without realising they are doing so

Variety of sources provide their own definitions of program vs project management. Thus, it is hard to draw a line in the sand & say, ‘This is where project management differs from program management’. At times, program management is also equated with portfolio management.

Need for Program Management

Programs are executed when the goals are so large scale, that a single project cannot help achieve them.

Agile adoption is on the rise. This just adds sprints & releases to the long list of interdependencies. If all the projects managed to produce deliverables within the cost, timeline & budget. But their dependencies are not satisfied, chances of the overall success are bleak. For example, consider a new product launch exercise. Many functions – Product, Marketing, Customer support etc are involved. But if even one of them went out of sync with others, the product launch as a whole takes hit.

Responsibility of aligning projects with organisational strategies rests on the program manager. Project managers ensure that they deliver project/s they are looking after within the scope, budget & timelines.


Vital Differences between Program & Project Management

Program Management Project Management
View Broad Focused
Executed For Program Outcome, often aligns with the organisation wide priorities Project Outcome, often aligns with program priorities
Deals with Business Strategies Project Requirements
Responsible For Better Return on Investment, Process improvements etc On time, In scope, Within Budget Delivery
Reporting authority, if any Program Governance Office Project Management Office
Supporting Tools Balanced Scorecard, OKRs Agile, Waterfall

Responsibilities of a Program Manager

  • Organise & streamline for efficient delivery of projects that are cross-dependent
  • Lead, Guide, Evaluate project managers
  • Manage strategic changes & resources
  • Mitigate cross project risks
  • Program level reporting

Frameworks for Program Management

Program management is a vast discipline & involves co-ordination among lots of moving parts in an organisation. Naturally, there are a number of frameworks to support/encourage best-practices in program management. A few of them are listed below:

Connecting Program Objectives with Organisational Goals

Managing programs is an intricate task. It requires thorough understanding of macro as well micro factors. Factors that are capable of influencing achievement of company goals. Balanced scorecardObjectives & Key Results are just a couple of methodologies. They help connect program objectives with organisation goals. Specifically in OKRs, program goals can be set as team or individual objectives. Metric of success/failure then fall into place as corresponding key results.

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