In business, a lot of terms seem interchangeable. You can say whatever you want, and it’s harmless as long as the message gets across, right? Well, not always.
When it comes to ‘project management’ and ‘program management’, organizations need to be aware that there are significant differences between them. The best practices, skills, and levels of experience required for project and program managers are distinct. In short, if a company wants to enjoy the full benefits of both, they must be aware of the differences between project and program management.
Let’s take a look at what sets them apart!
What is project management?
A ‘project’ is created to provide deliverables within a specified amount of time and with strictly defined resources and goals. Depending on the style of project management involved, there may also be little room to adapt or alter targets once they have been established.
Most notably, projects are very specific in what they want to achieve. Even if a project is part of a larger program plan, individual projects will be far more focused. For this reason, it is usually safer to outsource projects than entire programs.
That is not to say that projects only matter as individual units. When part of a larger program, there must be a reasonable justification for managing projects collectively.
Project managers will have far more of a focus on low-level operational elements, such as budgets, deadlines, and key deliverables. That being said, managers are often required to translate these concerns into high-level metrics to satisfy stakeholders.
What is program management?
A ‘program’ involves coordinating two or more related projects, not for the sake of a single deliverable, but in the pursuit of significant change. This could mean getting established in a new marketplace, releasing a new product, accommodating a merger, and so on.
Program management is a top-level discipline. Program managers require an understanding of the wider business, as well as corporate stakeholders and the marketplace itself. Because of this, it is safer to have program management be an internal practice.
When a program manager assesses progress, it will be in relation to large-scale goals. They will explain objectives, operations, and targets in this fashion and will often be called to justify the program to stakeholders.
Because each program project is part of a wider scheme, the final results will often be worth more than the sum of their parts. A program manager will outline the projects required to achieve these goals and will regularly liaise with project managers to ensure everything is going according to plan.
Studying project and program management
There are several demonstrably effective frameworks for managers operating at different levels. These include Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) for program management and PRINCE2 and AgilePM for project management. These frameworks will often be based on distinct management styles, with the main difference being between traditional or ‘waterfall’ management frameworks like PRINCE2 and Agile style options like AgilePM. Different approaches suit different organizations, and it is up to managers to recognize the most appropriate method.
Investing in management training, whether as an individual or organization, is one of the best ways to enjoy the full benefits of structured project and program management. Larger businesses in particular place a great deal of faith in certified practitioners. Popular options like PRINCE2 and MSP can also be applied to virtually any company regardless of industry or size, helping practitioners to open up valuable job opportunities.
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