When tasked with writing a booklet to help executives better understand PMI’s disciplines, the group that Saverio Losito was part of made sure to explain what the difference was between a project manager and a program manager. Oftentimes, executives have difficulties differentiating between the two roles. Besides sounding similar, the two roles both deal with projects, after all, but certainly not in the same way.
Projects are singular, Programs are multiples
The definition of a project manager is pretty straight forward: they are the people who set specific goals and manage the tasks, resources, and funds to reach that goal. Program managers, however, have a bit more of a complex definition. To start with there are programs that are limited in scope and others that are ongoing, furthermore, program managers oversee an entire operation, not just a part of it.
Using the example of a program with a definite end, Losito provides this great illustration of what a program is:
To make an example, the rebuilding of a territory after a big earthquake is really a program. There are many distinct “projects” involved, each led by different people with different skills and focus. Some of the many tasks: verify and estimate the damages; find the needed resources to rebuild; make a business plan for every “project” involved; design the mission; identify the companies that will take home every “project”; manage teams through different project managers who will lead the different teams; and so on. Different skills are required for different aspects of these activities.
Another good differentiator is that project managers are measured by the project’s results (completion, services obtained, etc) whereas program managers are measured by expected benefits (as defined in the business case).
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