Differences between Program Management and Project Management

Programs and projects are the very core of almost all endeavors. If we were to describe each one of them through a metaphor, projects would be trains operated by project managers, pulling the work of a team to achieve goals and ultimately arrive with a finished good or service.

On the other hand, a program is a collection of trains running on different tracks but headed to the same station. The program manager is the station conductor, directing various project trains.

So, let’s dig some more into the difference between program management and project management, shall we?

What is program management?

It is managing a collection of dependent projects at once. Of course, each one of those programs must be completed to reach the end goal. Program managers are in charge that every program “stays on track,” delegating the project accordingly. To do so, they must do everything in their power to make everyone understand the strategic goals and objectives of the program and how their roles contribute to its success.

Besides, they help to drive organizational change by helping with agile transformations, including helping to implement DevOps practices and principles. Program managers are guardians of agile values like collaboration, team empowerment, and autonomy, delivering the best deal to customers and adapting to change at the moment while, at the same time, they tailor programs to the specific requirements and opportunities of the business.

Programs are usually linked to specific strategic initiatives; therefore – they are primarily long-running and sometimes even permanent. They continue through organizational change, contributing many different goals. Programs also incorporate projects expected to deliver specific components of the larger strategic initiative.

What is project management?

We wrote so many blogs on this matter, but let’s sum it up in just a few sentences for the sake of thoroughness.

We are starting with the basics.

Project management is the process of leading and managing individual projects. A project manager is in charge of the strategy and planning of projects. They also coordinate time, track progress in the short-term and long-term, allocate resources based on time and within budget, tackle risk management, delegate tasks, and review project success on completion.

All projects are made of a set of tasks with pre-defined and clear-cut deliverables, deadlines, and scope limited to a specific output.

Let’s compare the program and project right here. 

For starters, programs have fluid deadlines due to the enormous scope and the fact that they involve work done continuously over a long period. Programs have multiple deliverables with dependencies evolving based on changing business needs. It is common knowledge that success can deliver long-term benefits, unlocking new organizational capabilities.

What are program managers’ responsibilities?

First, they must balance delivering artifacts, engaging with strategic decisions, managing stakeholders, and mitigating risks across the program. Regarding obstacles, program managers should be able to solve or delegate the right people to solve any problem that might impact the planned strategic initiative.

Some of their tasks include:

  • Evaluating the portfolio state
  • Managing risks
  • Running the program
  • Engaging with stakeholders 
  • Refining the operating model
  • Supporting decisions 

Program Manager vs. Project Manager: What’s the Difference?

Here are four main differences between them.

  1. Program managers manage multiple projects and programs. The project manager oversees the team of an individual project.
  2. Both are project management experts with different certifications.
  3. Program managers are required to have a “strategic mindset,” while project managers should own a more “operative” mindset.
  4. Programs are more complex than a single project and last longer, needing a longer timeline to successfully deliver a program, while project managers work on smaller, shorter projects.

Tools for program and project management

We concluded that a program manager has broader responsibilities than a project manager.

What does it mean in terms of tools used by a manager? Well, program management tools should be focused on the macro, while project management is in for the micro perspective. Therefore, one could think they must be using different tools, each created with another purpose.

Regarding Teodesk, one would be wrong as both program and project managers can use it.

We owe this adaptability to Teodesk’s many features that connect business strategy to technical execution. Its adaptable timeline for critical project activities, quick responses to unforeseen challenges, and ample file storage allow program and project managers to generate statuses and reports in minutes, with a central place for all project/program documentation. Teodesk makes every project and program stage easier to track, control, and manage. The realization of activities within the Teodesk tool is organized through several modules, allowing managers to determine, execute and further develop control over every segment they are in charge of. Also, Teodesk templates can save significant time – they help avoid repetitive processes multiple times, and they can help with the estimates – by bypassing the confusion about estimating time for a task never done before. When using templates, every team becomes proficient at estimating while comparing how fast a specific job is done.

What are the key benefits of Teodesk?

  • Key information available in seconds;
  • Adaptable to the specific needs of the team;
  • Strong information security;
  • Integrated internal and external communication. The tool itself is available on the Web, as well as on iOS and Android devices.

Companies with sophisticated program management are much more successful than those with trouble with this department. Why is that?

Because program management allows organizations to achieve better alignment with strategic goals, project interdependencies, and better resource management, it is only fair to say that programs are not merely big projects!

A successful project is delivered on time and budget, while a program is focused on the overall benefits and the “value” is the driver rather than the budget. Projects are all about delivering a product to meet stakeholder expectations and minimizing unnecessary change. On the other hand, programs benefit the organization within defined constraints and in alignment with its strategic objectives.

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for organizational management to recognize the differences and effectively use both program and project management to create a strategic advantage for their organization. In other words, the time has come for a new level of thinking. That is already happening since many good project managers grow into great program managers.

The first step to becoming a program manager is understanding the difference between the two.

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