What Is The Difference Between a Project and a Program?

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You can arrive at your destination only when the course is correctly set, and all participants know where and why they are going. The project and the program are management categories, where special attention is paid to competent planning. How to understand the difference between them, and what do these differences affect?

  • The project is a corresponding set of activities and processes with the primary goal of implementing a large-scale task. The project’s main attributes are the availability of deadlines, resources, and mission. The project implementation can be calculated quantitatively as well as qualitatively.
  • A program is a group of projects united by a single goal, management, resources, and mission. Their result is a qualitative state change caused by the implementation of planned tasks.

How the Projects and Programs are Different?

The most important difference between these concepts is their scale. A program is several projects united by one goal. It is measured not quantitatively but qualitatively and implies a change of state. Terms of project implementation, as a rule, are rigidly defined, and their transfer will inevitably affect the implementation of the program.

There are also differences in the complexity of the implementation of the tasks. The implementation of the project seems to be simpler since, for success, it is enough to achieve goals by a certain period. The program is only a hypothesis, which must be confirmed in practice.

Organization Strategy

The Defining Standards

The organization has one or more portfolios, each of which contains a variety of programs and projects. Portfolio management is about selecting the right mix of programs and projects that an organization should do based on available resources and funding. Program management is about coordinating several related projects over time to produce outcomes that are beneficial to the organization. Projects are designed for the efficient delivery of a specified output.

PMI Standards

The project is a temporary undertaken to create a unique project service or result. The program is a collection of related projects managed in a coordinated manner to achieve benefits and control not possible by managing them separately. Some elements of work may be included in programs that are not within the scope of the individual projects.


The definition of a program is consistent, as can be seen in the examples. Programs are the coordination of multiple projects to realize benefits that otherwise would not be possible. The program’s goal of realizing benefits differs from project or project management. These definitions focus on the efficient delivery of products, services, or results (i.e., deliverables). The difference between projects and programs is often described as the “efficient creation of outputs.” Programs are concerned with delivering outcomes.

Measurements of a Project or Program

  • A project is well-defined, with a project charter that spells out precisely what the scope and objectives are for the project. A program tends to have greater levels of uncertainty. The team is also bigger. The project team oversees and coordinates work on several projects, so although the core team may not have as many people as required, the project managers and all the project team members will be included.
  • This is the most significant difference between projects and programs. A project represents a single effort. It is a group of people forming a team working towards a common goal. A program is different; it is a collection of projects. Together all the projects form a cohesive package of work.
  • Some projects do go on for several years, but most of the tasks you’ll work on will be shorter than that. On the other hand, programs are longer. As they set out to deliver more stuff, they take longer. Programs tend to be split into tranches or phases. Some projects are also divided like this, but not all projects last long enough to be delivered in multiple stages.
  • A project team works towards achieving specific outputs, what you get at the end. For example, this could be a set of deliverables that form a software package, a new retail branch, or whatever you are working on. The benefits of a project tend to be tangible: you get a ‘thing’ at the end. A program team works towards delivering outcomes. Outcomes can be tangible but are often not. The benefits of a program are the sum of all the benefits of the different initiatives it contains. These benefits may be policy- or culture-related or involve a change in how an organization operates.

Program Manager and Project Manager – What’s the Difference?

Usually, both programs and projects are aimed at achieving one common goal and business result. For example, a program for launching a new marketing campaign consists of several projects, including creating content, working on social networks, promoting, and preparing all the necessary materials for the campaign. This is an example of a situation where both a program manager and a project manager are involved in the work. But what are the responsibilities of each of them?

What Does the Program Manager Do?

Program Manager Responsibilities

A program manager can be called a strategic leader. He defines the objectives of the program and its importance for business.

The task of the program manager is to outline a plan and make a list of mutually beneficial projects that must be completed to achieve a common goal. As for the program itself, its manager is engaged in developing and implementing the strategy and the appointment of staff responsible for individual projects.

For example, if a program involves a marketing campaign, a manager may include attracting potential customers, increasing brand awareness, and expanding the target market to the list of goals. The role of the program manager goes beyond the implementation of individual projects and addresses the long-term benefits of the program as a whole.

What Does a Project Manager do?

Project Manager Responsibilities

The project manager manages the implementation of a separate project within the program. He coordinates the timeline, budget, and use of resources and distributes tasks between team members. Also, the project manager reports to the program manager on the progress of work and changes to the original project plan.

The project manager’s role is mainly concerned with practical issues, such as meeting deadlines, staying within budget, and completing reporting materials. His role generally ends with the completion of the project, but it can be helpful to review what went well and what didn’t.

Project manager vs. Program manager comparison table

ComparisonProject managerProgram manager
 RoleControl and monitor project tasksControl and monitor projects
FocusThe project staff, i.e., Specialists and techniciansManagement of relationships with project managers, their teams, and their staff. It will allow you to free up resources and resolve conflicts.
Who managesThe project teamOther managers
Planning levelA detailed project plan is created for resources, cost, timeliness, and delivery.Project managers create high-level plans to guide them in developing detailed plans.

Projects and Programs in Use

The success is measured regarding the business benefit, ROI, or new capabilities. The outcome is managed using a benefit plan.Project success is measured by producing specific time, quality, and cost deliverables.
Programs are concerned with “doing the right things” because they aim at benefits, not deliverables. They are more strategic than projects.Projects are about “doing things right” because they are more concerned with deliverables than benefits. They are concerned with tactics, not strategy.
Have a wide scope, focusing on benefits, and may have to change scope dramatically during the execution to meet the company’s changing needs.The scope of projects is tight – they are limited to producing deliverables.
Programs will span multiple functional units within an organizationProjects are typically confined to a single functional unit within an organization.
They are usually executed over a longer timeframe than projects, often several years.Projects, by definition, have a finite duration and are typical of a shorter timeframe than programs, often just a few weeks.

The table highlights the key differences between projects vs. programs in use.

Program vs. Project in use

The diagram shows a simplified view of how projects and programs fit within the hierarchy of a business.

Think of the diagram as showing the people running the business at the top of the triangle – the CEO and board. At the bottom of the triangle, we have the individual specialists who are working as part of a project. At the top of the diagram, we have the Business Level, where the board runs the business. People at this level are concerned with, amongst other things, setting strategic direction to implement the vision and managing a portfolio of programs to move towards the vision.

The next level in the diagram is the Program Level. Here, a program can initiate and control multiple projects to realize benefits. The program could also cancel projects if they weren’t the best way to realize the needed benefits due to a change in the business environment.

Finally, we reach the Project Level. Here projects are formed by the Program Level (or in smaller organizations without a program level, directly by the business level). Projects have a defined scope (set of deliverables) and must work efficiently to deliver these to time, budget, and quality constraints.

This diagram also highlights the difference between the project and the program and portfolio levels of management. The Business Level is responsible for managing a change portfolio, essentially several programs. Within the portfolio, each program is responsible for managing several projects.

Let’s look at a practical example of building a mobile phone. A software project exists for the device’s operating system to make sure it’s updated so that it works with the new hardware (as well as updating key applications). The project will aim to deliver the operating system and applications on time, on budget, and required quality.

The program that sits above this project will be much broader in scope. It’s targeted at delivering a mobile phone that maximizes profit for the business.

Our software projects will be just one of the projects controlled by the program. Other projects could include: Go To Market, Hardware, Tooling, Legal, Business Affairs, Support, etc. In fact, some of these projects may be so large and complex that they may be programs.

One of the key jobs of the program is to manage dependencies between projects. For example, the program must coordinate between the Tooling project and the Go To Market project to ensure alignment around the number of devices that the factory must produce to meet market demand. It will change over time and requires careful coordination, so there isn’t oversupply, which would result in a reduced return on investment.

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PPM Express is just the kind of tool that was created specifically for project and portfolio management in small and medium-sized organizations. It is designed to integrate seamlessly with JIRA and Planner, Microsoft Azure DevOps, and Microsoft Project Online. What makes it just the right fit for 20+ portfolios at a time operation. It is a Cloud-based solution that makes the dashboard available for your project managers and stakeholders anytime, anywhere. PPM Express is designed to be user-friendly and easy to use and deploy. Get full visibility, establish project management practices, and manage resources with accurate and up-to-date data from the projects at hand. All you need to start managing projects, tracking progress, and collaborating is in the PPM Express toolbox.

What Is The Difference Between a Project and a Program?
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