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The Difference Between Project Management and Program Management


Often, project management is used to describe the same job function as program management. However, project management and program management have fundamental differences.

Ultimately, program management could be seen as the step above project management. However, let's take a look at some of the key differences between program management and project management.

Project Management Has a Set Budget.

A project's goal is the purpose of creating a product, service, or structure with a specified budget. Although the budget may be subject to change, the budget is likely to stay fairly close to the original amount. In program management, the budget is often defined for multiple projects and per quarter. Furthermore, the budget of programs is more susceptible to change than a project's budget.

Program Management Is Long

Unlike a project's time frame, program management may last months, years, or decades. Program management may entail specifications for the creation and completion of multiple projects, which are typically related to each other. Program management revolves around a company's financial calendar. Project management involves a deadline for completing a specific project. Once a project is completed, the project manager's duties end. Program managers must continue to work on ensuring the company's business strategy aligns with the outcome of a project.

For example, programs and projects in the oil and gas industries can be most clearly separated. An oil field and refineries would be comparable to program management. The individual drilling of a well would fall under project management. Project managers may also be responsible for monitoring the processes of a single refinery. However, a program manager would be responsible with the oversight of the oil drilling, refining, and transport of refined products to businesses and consumers.

Program Management Influences Executives

When disagreements between executives arise, it's usually the responsibility of the program manager to come to a solution. Program management is subject to economic, political, and environmental considerations, especially for publicly-traded organizations. Additionally, a program manager must ensure an organization's executives create financially and physically achievable objectives.

Financial Management Is Part of Program Management

An organization's financial goals tend to be the responsibility of a program manager. The program manager must work to ensure the company's expenses do not exceed the company's return on investment for various projects. Project managers are responsible for the budget of individual budgets of specific projects. Although project budgets may impact program management, the project manager is not responsible for finding additional resources in other parts of the company.

When thinking about the differences between program management and project management, consider the responsibilities of each role. Program management operates a higher-level of responsibility, and project management answers to program management. A simple way to remember the authority is to place the terms, project and program, into alphabetical order. The "g" in program comes before the "j" in project; therefore, the program managers have more executive power than project managers.

Key Things to Write Down

  • Projects have a set end-date. Programs may last for extensive time periods.
  • Project management usually revolves around a single site. Program management may involve multiple projects.
  • Program managers are involved in executive-level decisions and a company's financial management.
  • Project managers have a budget per project. Program managers have a budget for many projects.

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