Program Management: Definition, Roles, Responsibilities, and Resources
By Esther Cohen
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’re likely familiar with project management and everything it involves.
Program management is something similar, yet very different.
In a nutshell, program management is the management of different but related projects. When you have multiple projects connected to each other, you group them together and manage them as a whole “program”.
In this article, I’ll give you a detailed rundown of the definition, processes, roles and responsibilities in program management.
I’ll also share a number of program management resources to give you a deeper understanding of this vital skill.
What is Program Management?
If you’re reading this, you likely already know the definition of project management.
As the PMI says, a project is:
“…a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.”
Ergo, project management is:
“…the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”
But what if you have multiple projects that are somehow related to each other? Say, a project to create a website and another to run a marketing campaign for it?
In such cases, you group the projects together as a program.
Grouping closely related projects together often brings in benefits you wouldn’t realize otherwise. In the above example, the design and development of a website would be informed by the marketing campaign to promote it – and vice versa.
Managing both the projects as a single program would allow the marketing team and the development team to interface better, leading to better overall results.
Thus, program management is:
- Grouping together related projects as a program, and
- Using specific management techniques, knowledge and skills to manage the program.
In the next section, I’ll look at the difference between program managers and project managers in more detail.
Program Manager vs. Project Manager
A program is made up of several projects.
A program manager, thus, manages multiple projects. You can think of his/her responsibilities as “meta-project management”.
While this admittedly crude definition works, there are several nuanced differences between program managers and project managers.
The easiest way to understand these differences is to look at job descriptions for these two positions.
For example, here’s a job description for a program manager:
Notice how the job responsibilities underscore the need to work with senior leaders across multiple departments?
That’s a quintessential feature of program management – it is longer and strategic in nature.
Now contrast that with a job description for a project manager:
You’ll notice that the job emphasizes execution and delivery.
That is: project managers deal with tactical responsibilities of managing deliverables, not defining strategy.
Let’s look at some of the differences between program managers and project managers in more detail below:
1. Program Management is Long-Term
As the PMI defines above, a project is a temporary undertaking. It has a definite beginning and end. Once the project is finished, the team disbands and resources are redistributed to other projects.
A program, on the other hand, is meant to meet a business’ long-term strategic goals. It can have dozens (or more) of smaller projects, all with varying durations. You might add/remove projects to the program …read more
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