If a company assigns a project manager to build a new branch, is the project manager responsible if the branch does not perform well? Most likely the answer is no. As long as he delivered the branch according to requirements like scope, time, and cost.
This is a major issue today in organizations; there is a gap between the strategic objective, the project’s product or service, and the ongoing operations based on that product. In the branch example, someone decided there was a need to expand into a new location. The organization assumes that simply initiating a project to open new branch is sufficient to meet the strategic objectives behind the decision. So a project manager is assigned to “deliver” a new branch. But once the branch is delivered, and handed over, the branch is not attracting customers. So they start another project to correct the issues making the branch not attractive. etc.
The problem is the sporadic effort of dealing with the initiative. A much better approach would have been to identify the strategic objective behind the requested expansion. Assign a program manager, to see the expansion through beyond just delivering a new branch.
So a Program Manager would be assigned to identify expected benefits from the Program, work with key stakeholders to develop a program road map, program plan, and road map. The program will include multiple related projects that aim at achieving the benefit of expanding into a new geographical location, for example. The Program Manager will still be responsible for the Program and delivery of benefits beyond delivering an opened branch.
A big part of Program Management is Sustainability of Benefits. A Program Manager would be responsible for operations, marketing projects, infrastructure projects, customer loyalty sub programs, etc, and whatever else it takes to ensure achieving and sustaining the benefits. Once the benefits sought are in place and sustainability is ensured, only then would a Program Manager close the Program.
Contrast the above to the act of initiating and closing a project. The project is about delivering a group of deliverables. Programs are about delivering values and benefits. According to the Project Management Institute, PMI, Programs Are a group of interrelated projects managed managed to produce benefits that cannot be achieved from managing each project separately.
Organizations who recognize the difference between programs and project will quickly reap rewards of having accountability and governance associated with benefits and value focus that a Program offers, not just a deliverable focus that a Project offers.