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Program Management vs. Project Management

Programs and projects have several elements in common. For instance, they both start with “pro.” But more critically, they both deal with change. In a post for the PM Perspectives Blog, Simon Harris reflects on the important connection between program and project management for business success.

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When it comes to the current treatment of program and project relationships, Harris has a bone to pick that none of the major guides really distinguish what separates a program manager role from a project manager role. MSP and PRINCE2 explanations involve a lot of overlap, and PMI has not articulated key differences either:

All the well known publishers of standards struggle with the difference between project and programme. Their struggle is because so many of the authors hailed from the supplier side of projects where their ability to see the world is limited by their stand-point (as is everyone’s).

Suppliers see the need to define how to control product development. This is (almost) fine for projects and for project managers whilst in development stages. It is not at all suitable for programme managers where they are taking on the role that fills the gap between investor’s needs and limits of the project manager’s duties.

In seeking better definitions of a project and program, Harris has some suggestions. A project could be seen as a decision-making architecture that enables business benefits. A program could be seen as a decision-making architecture that transitions a group of people from a current state and into a future state. Is that a clearer distinction?

You can view the original post and more of Harris’s meditations here:

About John Friscia

John Friscia is the Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He began working for Computer Aid, Inc. in 2013 and continues to provide graphic design support for AITS. He graduated summa cum laude from Shippensburg University with a B.A. in English.

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