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Program Manager vs Project Manager

Published on 26 April 16
Program Manager vs Project Manager- Confused between these project management roles?

Two high prolific roles fulfilling the void between projects and people, these managerial posts are gaining momentum in the corporate world like no other. With a skill set to boast of, many organizations deal with project and program managers, but many still use the terms interchangeably and sometimes, this causes quite a stir. Knowing the difference is vital as a designation is equally important as the job itself. This article will give you the Program Manager vs Project Manager and will also help you to understand what makes them uniquely and distinctively different. Welcome to the worlds of program and project management.

Each organization has a set business objective that comes across as the direction in which the business wants to head. Programs and projects aid these schemes to get the business to fulfil its desired position in the corporate world.

Segregation of tasks and activities and chunking always provide relief and better monitoring opportunities for managers, thus, creating teams to manage and coordinate each segregation. This gives rise to programs and projects among these teams. To comprehend Program Manager vs Project Manager, it’s important that you understand the stark difference between a program and project.

What’s a Project?

Project, in terms of this article, can be very well described as a temporary undertaking by a team or teams in order to achieve a certain amount of change within the department or organization. Projects come with constraints such as cost, scope, timelines, and resources and undergo a project life cycle, which comprises of phases, such as:

  • Defining
  • Planning and designing
  • Developing and executing
  • Monitoring, evaluating, and closing

Projects can take be concentrated on either process or people or procedure and can be used to resolve a problem or issue that has cropped up, which is causing some sort of a hindrance to the proper functioning of the workflow.

Every organization and undertaking needs order and systematic approaches that can yield desired results for the objective in mind. Project stakeholders are members interested in this result and are responsible for the decision taken around the constraints posed by the project. Project team members are the hands of the project and are the crew working directly on the project, striving to help the project meet its main objective.

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Projects cannot be mistaken for to be miniscule changes implemented within the company workflow and needs to be an undertaking that contributes to a dramatic change within the system of the organization. A project manager handles a project.

What’s a Program?

Interestingly enough, a program is normally the term used to mention a collection of projects, aimed at achieving the overall goal of the company and business objectives, and those that are dependent on each other for success.

Programs are large undertakings and cannot be under the supervision of a central figure. For the purpose of managing the program well, delegating individual projects stemming from a single program is recommended. This eventually cumulates to a program having many underlying projects. A program manager deals with the nuances of a program.

The few phases that take place in a program are as follows:

  • Outlining objectives
  • Planning execution
  • Managing operations
  • Reporting

All of these phases and stages are conducted in a bid to beautifully coordinate the many projects that are in line to achieve the goal set by the program, which is in the intention of bringing about dramatic changes in the business performance altogether.

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Think of a program as a high-level view of the projects that are worked upon in the interest of the business objectives.

Let’s have a look at this table to get a little more definite differences between the two management systems:

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Now since you know what the difference between a project and a program is, let’s get to know of these roles that manage these systems in place to successfully apply changes to an organization.

Who is a Project Manager?

A skilled individual who carefully and meticulously manages all the activities and tasks of an individual project within a program. A project manager carefully manages the triple constraints involved in the process of project management, namely: cost, scope, and timelines.

A project manager coordinates these constraints and plans efficiently to delegate all the tasks and activities among the team members reporting to them. While a project manager reports to a program manager, who is in-charge of checking through and providing direction to projects, project managers are also responsible of managing the progress of the project to its completion. The program manager is also updated about the changes and deviation that take place from the initial project plan.

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The project manager stays on duty for as long as they as the project life span. Once the project is completed and its objective achieved, the project manager’s job role ceases and they can latch on to the next project at hand or review the processes in the workflow or check on what didn’t work the first time around.

Who is a Program Manager?

A program manager is a highly skilled leader with a vision for the future of the organization. They are individuals who ensure that their vision for the overall program is met, with and is the official supervisor and mentor of the individual projects that are undertaken to benefit the program.

A program manager is responsible for the job of understanding the change program needed for the business’ performance and post that, map and define the list of projects that are needed to achieve the objective of the change program.

The program manager would need to correctly and accurately brief the project managers of the business objective needed to be achieved, which can be beneficial to the business in terms of the revenue and returns accrued.

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When it comes to the program, program managers focus on the strategy applied and the implementation plan. Then accordingly the delegation of projects as per the requirement takes place.

A program manager’s hold over a program extends beyond the life spans of the individual projects and goes on to the long-term benefits of the program on the whole.

Managing such programs demand long-term commitment by the program manager. The results of the program are in conjunction with the business’ plan of quarterly results and a program manager is responsible for that.

In terms of monitoring and maintenance, a program manager will ensure that the governance board provides realistic goals for the change program and is responsible for achieving them.

Program Manager vs Project Manager Infographics

Below infographics on Program Mananger vs Project Manager,throws light on major points of differences between the two.

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It’s often said and believed that a program manager holds and hones a larger set of skills and power while at the seat. Wearing a bigger hat on the scene, a program manager is said to utilize these powers bestowed to make a difference to things.

More than a bigger hat, a program manager needs to wear different and varied glasses to look at the program from different perspectives. Through these perspectives arise the proper segregation of projects to achieve the business objective, set for that particular program.

Once these perspectives are set and the segregation made, do the role of project managers becomes prevalent. Project managers don’t need the all-seeing glasses to get into the skin of perspectives, but rather hold on to the project objectives and manage the process and workflow that culminate into the success of the project.

To gain a more in-depth understanding of the Program Manager vs Project Manager, let’s have a quick look into each of these perspectives:

  • Tactical Approach versus Strategic Approach

With the comparison between program and project managers, it is safe to say that a project manager is more tactical than a program manager. While, a program manager is strategically involved.

The role of a project manager is centred on completing tasks, deliverables, meeting certain expectations and standards of quality. The project manager also strives to meet specifications on time and within a slated budget.

The role of a program manager focuses on the bigger picture that of the implementation and complete fulfilment of the strategy employed to provide bigger gains to the business. Growth, results, and business performance are the central attractions to a program manager.

  • Project versus Operations

As stated once before in this article, a stark difference between a project manager and a program manager is the fact that once a project achieves its end date with success, the project manager’s work is said to be completed.

In such a scenario, a program will continue to look beyond the end dates of individual projects and check for operational tasks and transition of the change.

A project manager will be looking at each activity from a transactional point of view and doesn’t involved the bigger picture of business results.

A program manager will think from a perspective of a businessperson and look out for business results and outputs in every task or activity undertaken.

  • Engineering versus Architecture

A direct analogy of this point would be to think of project managers as engineers, who are mostly involved in planning and executing/implementing a set plan for the benefit of the project.

Program managers, more like architects, work on designing of the entire undertaking and checking for feasibility and adaptability of a particular design in a business environment. These program managers look at:

  • Form
  • Function
  • Design

This is just as in the case of architects. The vision is encapsulated in these elements when worked upon during the proceedings of a program. These professionals will be responsible for selecting effective solutions, delegating projects that work harmoniously with the aim of the change program, and even check for structural dependencies to facilitate the smooth functioning of each project, which then sum up to be the program deployed. All these together help the program to achieve optimum results in the long run.

  • Coordination and Management versus Vision and Leadership

The difference between management and leadership is that management gets to the nitty-gritty of process and people and deals with transactional activities, while leadership always invites and inspires people with goals and visions to complete a particular objective.

In the case of a project manager, there would be instances of leadership qualities that are put to use to inspire team members to conduct their piece of work. This contribution will help them put together a smashing project and accolades to the team. But, more than these instances of leadership, while in a project, a project manager often looks more towards the tasks and deliverables slated for the project phase and makes sure the work is done within the time frame allotted and the budget kept aside.

Program managers on the other hand, though they check for the operations conducted and project managers reporting to them, they also put in front of these project managers the vision of the program and how projects can benefit the program and the program, in turn, the business. Program managers are responsible for motivating and inspiring individuals and the stakeholders in the program to envision the dream of the change program and urge them to turn the dream into a reality.

In simpler words, program managers are visionaries to the business and have a distinctive leadership air to them.

Having reached the end of this topic, it comes to mind to enlist one similarity between project managers and program managers. They are both hardworking individuals who are striving towards making a difference in the business and industry they belong to and putting to efficient use the skills and expertise they possess.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and I hope your aspirations are drawn towards either being a project or a program manager. The businesses around the world are in search for such individuals who can bear the responsibility and accountability of improving business performance and in turn making a change in the global economic scene.

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