What are the fundamental differences between the two? Find out…

This article was originally published on APMG International.

Defining a Project:

Perhaps the key difference between a project and a program is specificity. A project refers to a specific, singular endeavour to deliver a tangible output. A project manager is therefore responsible for ensuring a project delivers on its intended output in line with a defined time frame and budget.

Defining a Program/Programme:

A program refers to multiple projects which are managed and delivered as a single package. A program manager is therefore tasked with overseeing all the projects comprising the program – to ensure it achieves its outcomes.


How Projects and Programs differ:

Article about the difference between project and program. Orange that seems to be an apple.

  • Make-up: The components of a project are specific and exact. The scope and goals of a project are well-defined – while programs are typically less clear-cut. Furthermore, because a program covers multiple projects – a program team tends to be larger as it also incorporates the project managers and their project team members.
  • Effort: A project represents a single, focused endeavour. A program meanwhile is a collection of projects – together all the projects form a connected package of work. The different projects complement each other to assist the program in achieving its overall objectives. It’s likely the different projects within a program will overlap – the program manager will therefore assess these overlaps and work with the relevant project managers to ensure the program’s smooth progression.
  • Length: While some projects take several years – the typical project will not take very long to complete. In contrast – programs often take a very long time to complete as they intend to deliver more. It’s therefore common for programs to be organised into phases or tranches. A particularly long project may also be organised into multiple phases – but this is less common.
  • Benefits: Projects focus on achieving tangible outputs, i.e. what you gain upon completing the project. Programs focus on outcomes – which are often not tangible. The benefits provided by a program depend on the collective benefits of its projects. Examples of a program outcome include a cultural or political change within an organization – or a change in the way in which an organization operates.


What are the skills & behaviours needed to become a project or program manager?

The skills sets required to be successful in the disciplines is different. Program managers must be comfortable in being less hands-on and they need to have a vision of the benefits the program will achieve. Project managers need to focus on the deliverables of their project which must be achieved within certain cost and time constraints.

The best thing for the organisation running program and projects is that everyone understands the different pressures faced by their colleagues. So if you are a project manager it’s well worth finding out more about program management and similarly program managers benefit from understanding the challenges that project managers face.

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