But the question remains: What is program management? And how does it differ from project management?
To put it simply, program management is similar to project management, only on a higher level. Project managers have a deeper focus, and are responsible for the outcome of the project and handling the team that’s been assigned to the task. In contrast, program managers are responsible for creating, leading and driving execution of a series of interconnected business projects. This more holistic approach can encompass many projects, departments and people, but is under the direction of one person, driving an overarching strategic vision.
As a basic example, take the development of a new product. A program manager would be tasked with taking that product from concept to delivery, bringing in all relevant areas of the business as needed: engineering, design, marketing, finance and more. During this development period, the organization would begin a number of projects, each with their own project manager driving the tactical execution — e.g., creating and refining a key component of the product, setting up a distribution network for release, or creating a marketing campaign to build buzz and drive sales. Meanwhile, the program manager provides strategic guidance and oversight to keep all of the disparate elements of the program on track.
Creating this hierarchy of workers makes sense for a number of reasons. Project managers can dive deeper into an individual project, focusing on meeting that project’s specific goals and staying within budget. They’re thus freed from the responsibilities of the program manager, who would be responsible for overall strategy and ensuring that the overall program was meeting existing business goals — not to mention being held accountable by the executive team for the outcome of the program. Program managers would also take on the prospect of managing change within the organization caused by the program, and ultimately, are responsible for delivering ROI and bottom-line impact.