Differences between Program Management and Project Management

Program Management and Project Management

Have you ever found yourself trying to identify or explain the difference between program and project management? You’re not alone. This guest post from Wright1 Consulting will help identify the distinctions and help you better understand what separates the two different functions.

Program Management vs. Project Management

There are many differences between program management and project management, but not many people know what they are.

Our post, What is Project Management: An A to Z Guideis an in-depth look at what project management involves.

Here are some quick ways to differentiate the two:

Projects center around the project deadline.
Programs are about business and operations. They have much longer durations than projects do, using long-term strategy and planning and constant improvements to focus.
Financial Calendar
Projects typically run on the project, not the organization, timeline.
Programs are closely associated with a company’s financial calendar, like quarterly results.
Projects have a budget allocated to the project and the project manager will manage within that estimate.
Programs have more complicated and sensitive financial management and budget planning processes. They are not as simple as having a budget and managing to it since a program’s revenue and cost are generally significant to the company.
Projects can have management of all levels from managers to VPs involved, however, the governance and controls for decisions are less formal.
Programs involve senior level management and direction, in order to have more authority, influence, and power to resolve issues and make program wide decisions. This brings about control gates and governance standards.
Change Management
Projects do need to follow an organization’s formal change management system. However, they can be less susceptible to overall market changes.
Programs involve more complex change management because of their size or because they are tied to the organizations’ overall strategy. Programs are more susceptible to market changes and shifting business goals.

PM Role

(Project Manager vs. Program Manager)

Project managers are more like engineers, who plan in detail and provide ways to enable the vision.
Program managers are more like architects, involving overall vision made up of function and form. They think about the structure of the program, organizing the projects within the program, to achieve success.

PM Strategy

(Project Manager vs. Program Manager)

Project managers are more tactical, seeking to complete tasks and deliverables on time and within budget.
Program managers are strategic, looking at the larger picture and implementing a strategy to achieve objectives with clear advantages for the company, like growth and results.

As you can see there is a different between program and project management. In general, program management involves much more of the big picture, strategic, corporate execution at a senior level with larger scale impact to company finances and business goal achievement.

Project management sticks closer to immediate tasks, timelines, and the goals of the project.

There is clearly a new level of thinking and management that occurs at the program level and many good project managers grow into great program managers.

This is why the first step to becoming a program manager should be to understand the difference between the two, learn and develop your employee’s skills to be a program manager, and then, little by little, let them grow from projects to programs.

See our post and slides, Project Management Methodologies: A Beginner's Guide, to learn how you can improve your project management.


Ashton, Claire. "Program Management Vs. Project Management."  Chron. Retrieved January 4, 2014. http://smallbusiness.chron.com/program-management-vs-project-management-53325.html.

Duggal, J. "Next Level Up: Role of Program Manager Versus Project Manager."  PMI – Project Management Institute. Retrieved January 4, 2014. http://www.pmi.org/eNews/Post/2008_0808/NextLevelUp_RoleOfPogramManVsProjectMan.html

Hanford, Michael. "Program management: Different from project management."  IBM. Retrieved January 4, 2014. http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/rational/library/4751.html.

Hook, A. "Project versus Program Management."  Accretive Solutions. Retrieved January 4, 2014. http://www.accretivesolutions.com/blog/project-versus-program-management.

Spacey, John. "Program Management vs Project Management: 5 Critical Differences."  Simplicable. Retrieved January 4, 2014. http://management.simplicable.com/management/new/program-management-vs-project-management.

Wright1 Consulting

Wright1 Consulting

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This article is by Wright1 Consulting from wright1consulting.com.