Difference Between Project Manager and Program Manager

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by StarAgile

October 13, 2021
Category Project Management


Sustaining in today's competitive market without a skilled workforce is inconceivable. That is why modern businesses delegate specialized individuals for specific roles. A prime example of that would be program managers and project managers.

Although both positions ensure the business completes its projects, they overview different aspects. Despite that, the roles have multiple similarities, creating some confusion between many. A significant difference between a project manager and a program manager lies in their work scope.

Imagine an organization that sets its long-term goals. To achieve those goals, the venture will divide the objectives into different projects, making a program.

Since small projects complete the programs, the business assigns them to a project manager and the programs to the project manager. A project has particular objectives, covering multiple program goals. Contrarily, programs have deliverables and timelines, accounting for long-term objectives.

Seeing how both roles play a crucial role in every organization, knowing their difference is pivotal. This article talks about everything modern businesses must know about a program manager vs project manager. But first, let us understand the roles they play.

The Fundamentals of the Roles

A project manager's role is to plan, organize, and execute individual projects within a program. The position is planning and skill-based as project managers undertake routine tasks, improve productivity, delegate responsibilities, and maintain the budget.

Generally, a project comprises four phases - set up, planning, execution, and maintenance. It applies to most activities like marketing campaigns, developing a website, or building a home. Under all the scenarios, a project manager handles activities like:

  • Defining the project.
  • Keeping up with the schedule.
  • Preparing a budget and sticking to it.
  • Allocating resources.
  • Tracking progress.
  • Evaluating risks.
  • Interacting with stakeholders.
  • Resolving issues.

Program managers are accountable for defining the goals and strategies of a program. They prepare an outline of the goals and ensure the organization achieves them. Program managers also specify the projects within the program.

In an organization, program managers oversee multiple projects concurrently and ensure their ample execution. Here are some routine activities program managers go through:

  • Managing the program.
  • Defining governance.
  • Maintaining the overall program budget.
  • Coordinating projects.
  • Diverting resources and funds across the programs.
  • Aligning products to the program's outcome.
  • Meeting the stakeholders' demands.

With such responsibilities, program managers hire the staff to participate in the program. They also define the budget, assess the ROI and strategies, and overlook initiatives that affect multiple projects.

Project vs Programs: What is the Difference?

Now that we have understood the fundamental roles of a project manager and a program manager, it is pivotal to understand projects and programs in general.  

A project is a temporary, one-off undertaking bound by resource, time, budget, and cost. Nevertheless, it has clear deadlines and short-term objectives that render tangible results.

A program is made up of multiple underlying and interconnected projects. The projects collaborate and complement each other to reach a bigger, long-term organizational goal. As a result, programs deliver strategic and sustainable benefits, crucial for a business' market stature and growth.

PMP Certification

Difference Between Project Manager and Program Manager

Purpose

Program managers monitor the big picture and assess how different programs will affect the organization. Then, they prioritize every program's optimal execution to achieve business longevity and long-term goals' attainment.

Project managers' thought-process is detail-focused and tactical. They need to coordinate inter-program activities to achieve short-term deliverables while staying within the budget. As a result, program managers get a definite timeline for the project and strive to achieve the pre-defined quality standards.

Seniority

Generally, program managers have more seniority than project managers. However, since the role undertakes a broader spectrum view, it stands as the more senior position among the two.

Job Focus

The project manager role focuses on the content and attempts to produce output. Their job requires technical expertise to conduct specific tasks and is a single functional unit. 

Contrarily, program managers emphasize the overall context and deliver outcomes. Their job requires strategical prowess to achieve better cohesion.

Responsibility

A program manager plans for resources, project scope, work schedule, and budgeting. They focus on the internal factors of their team and the business.

Program managers are accountable for the achievement of the organization's long-term goals. They focus on external and internal activities to facilitate best practices. They maintain effective customer interaction and efficient procedures throughout the projects. A program manager must be clear about the organization's strategic direction and execute decisions accordingly. 

Success

A project manager measures success via product quality, cost-effectiveness, timeliness, and compliance, and level of customer satisfaction. A program manager measures success how well the program meets the requirements and perks it was initially meant to achieve. 

Roadmap

Project managers' road-mapping responsibilities are restricted to project deadlines. They identify benchmarks, track the project's progress, interact with other projects, and facilitate efficiency.

On the other hand, a program manager creates a roadmap for every project until the project ends. It includes outlining multiple projects in the program and planning their execution.

Metrics

A project manager accounts for multiple metrics, including human resource planning, resource use, budget maintenance, and meeting deadlines. 

However, a program manager deals with metrics like the return on investment of the program. It includes evaluating the risks, resource optimization, and planning for risk minimization.  

Closing Thoughts

Program manager vs project manager is a prevalent topic among many modern businesses. To summarise the differences:

  • Project managers oversee a single project included within the program, while program managers supervise different projects.
  • Project managers emphasize short-term tangible goals while a program manager focuses on long-term goals. 
  • Project managers have a tactical thought process and focus on intricate details. Contrarily, a program manager thinks strategically.

Although the jobs have different routine functions, program and project managers must maintain impeccable management and communication. Furthermore, despite them working on different goals, their jobs are directed towards the organization's sustainability. 

After assessing the differences, organizations & individuals can understand by enrolling in PMP Certification and implement the knowledge to achieve better results.