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Project Management and Program Management – Is there any difference here?


project or program management


Many practitioners and their employers related to the Program Manager as a Senior Senior Project Manager. What after the Project Management role? We will make your Program Manager, the employers say. Many actually use Project Management and Program Management interchangeably. And some perhaps use Program Manager for the ones who are doing multiple projects.

Now, this is significantly different than what Programs and Program Management are set to achieve as per the many institutions and world bodies of project management.

Program Management is a very recent phenomenon. It came into existence in the early 2000s when many organizations focus shifted to managing the outcomes and benefits coming from the projects. The focus shifted from a mere deliverable or output to managing benefits which can help achieve the organizational goals.

Early Period Literature suggests that the terminologies ‘programme’ and ‘project’ have been used interchangeably since the 1960s and particularly in the US Department of Defence and NASA. There was no definite distinction between the usage of ‘programmes’ and ‘projects’ at that time, and large projects were often described as programmes. According to Weaver (2007), the Manhattan initiative to create the atomic bomb in the 1940s was probably the first programme, since the 1950s numerous programmes crystallised in the US military.

development of project and programme management

At the start of 2000 program management and benefits, delivery became high priorities in many organisations, rather than knowing when the project would be completed and at what cost.

If you can check the above diagram, you can typically understand how project management has evolved and how project management distinctly differs from Program Management. The projects have evolved from mere time management tool to a concept covering different stakeholders or departments in an organization to focusing on Project Manager’s skills and competencies to a paradigm shift of Management by projects and focus on organization goals. Project Management as a concept is an evolving concept and is a function of many uncontrolled variables such as dynamic changing business situations, high competitiveness, and ambiguity.

Difference between Project Management and Program Management:

To understand the difference between Project Management and Program Management, let’s check the standard definitions and subsequently, understand what each term means.

Project Management is characterized by the following:

  1. Specific Objectives
  2. Temporary Endeavor
  3. Unique in nature

A project manager knows what he has set to achieve – it may be a software product, a construction building, a medical drug. The Project Manager is doing something that is a change from the usual routine. A Project Manager drives the change. However, the Project Manager is not so much concerned about the benefits and the organization strategies. And therefore, the software product or medical drug that he has produced may not result in achieving the desired benefits which were intended to do in the first place. The Project Manager is more focused on generating the outcome without considering other things – he is a very reliable focused individual.

Program Management has Projects and Operations as its sub-components and combines the various sub-components so that it can achieve the desired benefits which are not possible by managing individual projects and thus, focus on realizing the benefits to achieve the organizational goals. Program Management acts as a bridge between the Organizational Goals (Portfolios) and Projects. The Program Manager is keener to get the desired benefits and realize these benefits so that the organizational goals are achieved. He is a flexible and influencing authority to realize the benefits to achieve organizational goals.

The Program Manager skill sets also therefore, hugely, differ from that of a Project Manager.

I have given a nice summary that differentiates the Program Manager and Project Manager skill sets. These 2 roles complement and differentiate each other and are very much needed in a large organization. Both have their own importance and both have their own existence.

The below summary clearly differentiates the different skill sets between the Program and Project Manager.

project management or program management


Both the Program Manager and Project Manager are required in any large organization to achieve the organizational goals. In fact, as the world is becoming more complex and competitive, we would be witnessing more program managers and their techniques to achieve the organizational goals and their benefits.

Further, if you wish to check the relationship between Programs, Projects, and even Portfolios in an organization, check this standard diagram from Standard Guide of PMI. It gives a good visualisation of how everything is related to the organization.

portfolios programs and project

Source: Program Management Standard Guide, 4th Edition PMI

The above diagram clearly shows the distinction between the programs and projects. As you can see from the above diagram:

  1. Program A consists of Project 2 and Project 3 
  2. Program B also has a sub-component of another smaller Program B1 
  3. Program C has a sub-component as operations.

Also, there are some projects e.g., Project 1 which is not part of any program and is independent, and part of the overall portfolio.

Many organizations actually may not have Program Management as a practice and may not be doing Program Management. However, as the businesses are evolving and the environment around the business is evolving. It is a matter of time that these large organizations inculcate the Program Management practices and steer the organization to greater strategic objectives. Program Management is fast getting differentiated and also recognized in many organizations and as a practice, getting more in demand. The PgMP (Program Management Certification) getting more in demand is also a good testimony to this fact.

From the certification point of view, accordingly, there are 2 different certifications from PMI for Project Manager and Program Manager, i.e., PMP (Project Management Professional) and PgMP (Program Management Professional) respectively. Both cater to different demands as explained above. Both complement each other and both are required in the organization.

Eligibility Criteria for PMP

Eligibility Criteria for PgMP

As we see it, both these roles are set to achieve something different and as explained above, require different skill sets. However, many perceive that Program Management is a higher certification to Project Management. That is not necessarily true; however, Program Managers require business-savvy professionals who can soft skills and tacit skills and work with people in authority in the organization to get things done.

We have written many other blogs which can elucidate program management.

https://www.prothoughts.co.in/is-pgmp-next-move-for-you/ – If PgMP’s next move for you?

https://www.prothoughts.co.in/do-organizations-need-program-manager/ – Do Organizations need Program Managers?


  • Is it worth doing a Program Management after your PMP certification?

 The purpose of this blog was to explain that Project Management is way different from Program Management. And both have their own set of objectives.

Trust this blog was useful to understand the difference between what a Project Manager and Program Manager does and how they do some significantly different yet complementary roles.

For more questions or additional information or your suggestions/thoughts, please drop a comment below or mail to [email protected]

Happy Reading!

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