Program Management is managing multiple related projects combined to deliver benefits not achievable from managing them separately. This makes Program Management a magnitude of complexity over Project Management.
These are the top ten differences between program and project management:
- Programs are about benefits, not just deliverables. For example, a project manager delivering a system implementation is responsible for the delivering the system functional for the organization. However, in a program setting, the program manager would probably be responsible for the strategic intent behind the system. So, the system implementation might be part of an initiative to improve the organization’s ability to do business online. So migrating online is a program, and the system implementation is one of many projects the program manager has to worry about to ensure delivering the benefit (do business online) .
- Programs require a lot of stakeholders’ expectations management, much more than what a project requires. Remember programs have multiple projects under them and affect many more stakeholders than a project. So managing expectations become more difficult.
- Programs bring about deeper and tougher changes at the organizational level than a project does. This makes resistance to change much higher towards a program compared to a project. The program manager must have the ability to deal with this resistance to change proactively and throughout the program lifecycle.
- Programs usually have a much longer span of time than projects. In a single program many projects are initiated and closed over many years (usually). The longer span of time adds to the complexity of the program and poses its own challenges when it comes to funding, managing stakeholders, getting buy in and commitment, etc.
- Programs financial management is more complex than a project. The inflows and outflows over the span of the program sometimes leave the project financially challenged. The Program Manager must develop the necessary financial plans to ensure this is handled wisely, with the support of program sponsor and board.
- Program Managers must have knowledge of the organization beyond managing projects. Knowledge of the organizational culture, operations, background, etc., are key for program success.
- Benefits realization in programs sometimes come long after the program itself is closed. This is challenging as the program manager might have to plan for sustaining the momentum for the changes brought by the program long after he or she closes the program.
- Risk Management on projects is key, but it is more so on programs. There is a lot of uncertainty on programs. For example, not all program components might be known at the beginning of the program. So estimation becomes difficult early on, causing funding to become a potential issue.
- Balancing between controlling program components (projects and operations) and allowing project managers enough autonomy is a challenging task. Project Managers need room to maneuver on their project, but the program manager must keep a close eye on the performance of the project.
- Benefits realization means always keeping an eye on the big picture, and having the wisdom to see the long term vision. This becomes the responsibility of the program manager, even when everybody else seems focused on short term issues. Project Managers deal with shorter term issues than program managers.
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