Program Management Vs. Project Management: What You Need To Know

Projects and programs are needed to push an organization's goals forward. And behind every project or program is a manager working diligently to ensure everything runs efficiently. But what is the difference between program management and project management? What do project managers and program managers do?

Here's what you need to know:

Program Manager vs. Project Manager

What is Program Management vs. Project Management

Difference Between Program Management and Project

Program Manager vs. Project Manager

A program manager ensures groups of projects are carried out effectively and are following an organization's goals. Those groups of projects are referred to as a program. In contrast, a project manager leads an individual project — rather than a group of endeavors.

A program manager's duties may include the following:

  • Working with project managers to plan schedules, projects, and goals
  • Overseeing communication across different teams and projects
  • Working with executive management to brainstorm new strategies and execute goals

A project manager's responsibilities can include the following:

  • Ensuring a project is executed smoothly, within budget, and on time.
  • Planning and securing project resources, such as team members, budget, and tools
  • Keeping team morale high and addressing any shortcomings to ensure quality

What is Program Management vs. Project Management

Program management entails maintaining a strategic plan and scheduling multiple different projects. These projects work in tandem to help an organization achieve its goals. With that in mind, a program manager must always consider the "big picture" in every situation. In addition to the duties I mentioned before, program management may also include:

  • Informing and advising stakeholders
  • Mentoring project managers
  • Guaranteeing the success of each project plan and its deliverables

Another common task associated with program management is budget management. Often, program managers must ensure funds are appropriately allocated across current and future projects. Doing so allows project managers to focus on their duties instead of competing for funding. With all the responsibilities associated with program management, it's no surprise program managers become more necessary as a company grows.According to Zippia, most program managers (55%) work at companies with over 10,000 employees.

Zippia also says most program managers (65%) work in the public sector — but program managers can be present in other sectors such as government, education, and private.

While program management means thinking about how all the moving pieces of a goal connect, project management means focusing on one of those singular moving pieces. Project Management Institute defines project management as "the use of specific knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to deliver something of value to people."

To better understand how project management works, you must first understand what qualifies as a project. While there is no concrete definition of a project concerning project management, PMI says projects are essentially "temporary efforts to create value through unique products, services, and processes." A project manager may oversee the building of new software, executing relief efforts after a disaster, maintaining public highways, etc.

So now you know what a project is, but what does a project manager do? According toWellingtone's 2020 report — a little bit of everything. The report says the top 6 activities conducted by a project manager are:

  • Status reporting
  • Maintaining portfolio lists
  • Maintaining project planning methodology and templates
  • Facilitating project approval processes
  • Providing project management expertise
  • Facilitating lessons learned

Difference Between Program Management and Project Management

The difference between program management and project management is quite simple — program managers oversee a group of projects, while project managers oversee individual projects. The program manager ensures every project in a program agrees with an organization's overall vision. The project manager focuses on specific activities that move the agenda forward.

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