Program Management Vs Project Management

Program managers manage a number of projects, while project managers manage projects. Even though program management is an advanced level of project management, there are few major differences between the two as well.

Definitions of Project Management and Program Management


A project could be simply described as a set of particular activities carried out in a concerted effort to accomplish a specific objective.

Projects are temporary; they have a certain beginning and an end. They are distinct in the sense that a project is not a day-to-day business activity. A project has its own fixed outcomes. Projects are mostly cross-functional and include individuals from various different departments throughout the company and also from several other companies across geographies.

A project comprises of the below-listed components:

  • A certain sequence of activities.
  • Fixed start, schedule, and end
  • Planned resources and budget
  • Defined deliverables

Project management:

Project management is defined as the application of techniques, tools, skills, and knowledge to match the project’s demands. Most of the time, a project manager is held responsible for the successful completion of the assigned project and is also accountable for the team of the project and the outcome of the project.


A program is a set of related projects which will help in delivering a standard functionality. Among the group of related projects, each one of them has a bunch of specified deliverables. When all these projects are completed to perfection, these deliverables go on to develop functionality or serve to develop a final product.

A program would comprise of the following:

  • A deliverable or a single product
  • Providing value to accomplish the aims & objectives of the organization
  • Change and benefits management

Program management:

Program management can be easily described as a group of related projects managed in a co-ordinated way to reap the benefits and control, which is usually difficult when managing them individually. Programs might involve elements of related work outside the scope of discrete projects in the program.

Listed below are the 4 crucial differences between Program Management and Project Management.

Project Management vs. Program Management

1. Programs are on-going, whereas Projects are temporary:

A project has a defined and a particular beginning and an end. The project plan illustrates the detailed schedule of every single stage of the project and its completion date. There might be some delays for several reasons. But, the project still gets over within a certain timeframe once the deliverables are delivered.

On the other hand, a program is tied to the strategic aims & objectives of the company. A program’s purpose is to provide functionality or a higher-level product, and this is entirely based upon the completion of a set of related projects. So, even though a program will have reached its end, it would still be more long term than a project.

2. Program Management is strategic, and Project Management is technical:

As a matter of fact, project managers only concentrate on the delivery of the outcomes of the project. This outcome could be a product, a part of a product, or a service in itself. Their only goal is to ensure successful completion of the project and deliver the outcomes within the provided deadline, resources, and budget. Apart from a bit of people management, a project manager’s tasks are predominantly technical.

The program manager’s role is strategic. It includes negotiations, governance, and people. A program manager is only answerable to the top management on the on-going developments of the underlying projects. The job consists of intense negotiations with the board in terms of the goals underlined for the projects and how they are delivered. A program manager’s role might seem fruitful in terms of pay, but the responsibilities that come with it are unarguably a tough row to hoe.

3. Programs focus on ROI and value, and Projects focus on time and budget:

A project manager’s central aim is to make sure that the project is completed within the allocated budget and time. Therefore, the project manager works hard to complete the project and keep the internal customers happy. What the application of a deliverable is and what value it generates for the company in the future is the least of a project manager’s worries.

But, the program manager is required to intensely concentrate on what value the projects develop and what returns they will produce for the company. Return On Investment, also referred to as ROI, is an extremely vital aspect of the program manager’s responsibilities. Program managers negotiate with the board to allocate budgets to projects, and it becomes their duty to produce ROI and generate value for the client. Their goals are tied to the quarterly financial company of the company. The scope of financial management of a program manager is far higher than that of a project manager.

4. Programs handle change management, and Projects handle risk management:

Individual projects entail their own levels of associated risks. It is in the inherent nature of projects to be encountered with troubles because they bring about something new every single time. Project managers try to anticipate, predict risks, plan on effectively negotiating them, and allocate a specific risk budget for them.

On the other hand, Programs massively concentrate on change management on an organizational level. Risks connected with individual projects is not something a program manager would worry about. With its specific set of related projects, the program is aimed at bringing a change to the organization. This is a more complicated procedure because it includes the board’s co-ordinated functioning, various government organizations, external entities, people, and projects. It is a much more complex and challenging task as compared to that of project risk management.


To conclude, every project manager’s main objective is to become a program manager. While there are some similarities between the 2 roles, it is imperative to be familiar with all the vital differences. The crucial differences lie in the hierarchy of management, strategic implications of the deliverables, and the company’s financial impact.