Project Manager vs. Program Manager: Understanding the Critical Differences

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Projects and programs are often used interchangeably by team members and managers alike. Although they are similar, a project is different from a program. Over time, both project managers and program managers have grown in demand as organizations grow and expand their portfolio and client base. This article discusses what a project is and what constitutes a program, and the key differences between a project manager and a program manager.

Differences Between a Project and a Program

The main difference between a project and a program is that a project is a single entity or objective that needs to be delivered or met, whereas a program is a group of deliverables. For example, if a team is assigned to complete X in 3 months, this would mean that X is a project. On the other hand, if a team is assigned to complete X, Y, and Z for one or two years, this will make it a program.

A project is usually fairly straightforward when it comes to meeting deadlines and sending out finished products. For example, for a retail brand, a project could mean launching a new outlet at a specified location. This is a one-time requirement that can be fulfilled in a certain amount of time. On the other hand, a program for the same brand could mean diversifying and expanding to multiple cities in an assigned time. This means multiple projects need to be managed and delivered at different points in time.

Other Differences Between a Project and a Program

  • When it comes to the components of a project, they are highly specified with well-defined goals and objectives. On the other hand, programs are less specific and direct, and the requirements can change over time as the timeline progresses. 
  • Since programs are essentially a group of projects, they form one combined package and require a lot more resources than projects. 
  • Programs require a lot more collaboration from the teams involved than projects because projects focus on delivering one endeavor. 
  • Programs can have overlapping aspects from different projects, requiring more effort into coordination and communication.
  • Programs often go on longer than projects do. Some projects can take years to complete, but this does not make their programs. 
  • The point of focus on a project is still completing one main objective, no matter how long it takes, whereas programs are responsible for achieving multiple objectives over time.

This is why program managers are necessary. More than 30% of organizations believe that it becomes a lot more difficult to manage multiple related projects in one go without a program manager. This problem can be easily solved if companies hire a professional program manager to oversee the program’s progress.

Project Manager vs. Program Manager: Understanding Key Differences

Difference Based on Value Generation

  • When it comes to a project manager, he is responsible for creating value for only the project he is assigned to. The value generation for the benefit of the overall organization does not fall under his purview. 
  • On the other hand, a program manager is responsible for making sure the overall business goals are met while the program is ongoing. Programs typically last for a longer period than projects do. This means that they have a higher impact on the organization’s business goals, which is why a program manager needs to keep the goals of the program and the goals of the enterprise aligned.

Difference Based on the Purpose of Job Role

  • The main goal of a project manager is to ensure that the project is completed and delivered on time and that it is of the highest quality. This is a fairly specific purpose in terms of job roles. 
  • A program manager is responsible for delivering multiple projects in succession over a long time. This impacts the entire organization. A program manager streamlines operations, aligns goals, and comes up with new and improved processes that can be implemented across the organization so that the program is successful in the long run.

Difference Based on Return on Investment

  • A project manager is responsible for the success of the project and the project alone. He is in charge of making and tracking the budgets, generating reports and analyzing their risks, allocating resources and deliveries, all of it for the project itself.
  • A program manager is responsible for generating value for the company with the program he is responsible for. He takes an overview of all the processes and strategies in place and improves and solves problems on a larger scale.

Difference Based on Tasks Assigned

  • When it comes to the actual job role and tasks assigned to the project manager, some of his responsibilities include:
  • – Meeting all deadlines for the project
  • – Assigning resources for the project
  • – Managing capacity of team members for the project
  • – Ensuring effective communication and collaboration between team members
  • – Creating insightful reports for the program manager and other stakeholders of the project
  • – Creating timelines and deadlines for the project
  • – Risk management for the project
  • – Team management for the project
  • – Budgeting for the project
  • When it comes to the responsibilities of the program manager, some of them include:
  • – Creating and implementing enterprise-wide strategies
  • – Creating and evaluating ROI and success metrics for the programs
  • – Managing collaboration and creating effective communication channels between teams
  • – Keeping track of individual projects, their timelines, and success
  • – Continuously improving existing program management and project management strategies

Difference Based on Income

  • The average salary for a project manager is around $85,000 annually. Project managers who are certified stand to make significantly more income than their non-certified counterparts. And to become a project manager, a professional training course such as PMP Certification in Las Vegas, would help you to achieve excellence.
  • The average salary for a program manager is around $135,000 annually. Same as above, certified program managers stand a chance to make a lot more income than their non-certified counterparts.

Final Thoughts

Project management and program management are both important parts of an organization. They are responsible for generating value for the company, both directly and indirectly. Therefore, a certified project manager or a certified program manager is considered to be an important position for companies, and the job role is in high demand across various industries.


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