Program Management is the discipline of managing a group of interdependent projects. In management’s hierarchical structure, program management comes between project management and project portfolio management (PPM). Because there are some disagreements to its exact definition, program management is an often misrepresented area of expertise, vague even to management professionals. The sections below seek to clarify the misunderstandings commonly associated with program management.
While some businesses use the terms synonymously, a program is not the same as a project. In a book about the practical application of program management in business1, several industry leaders define the difference between program and project by examining the duties of the manager. They explain that “a program manager’s job… requires [the] management of the interdependent issues across the multitude of projects… In contrast, a project manager is responsible for the scope of work within his or her project only.” In other words, a project is a specific one-time input, whereas a program works with that input (and the inputs of other projects) to deliver a larger business objective.
Because a program consists of multiple projects, it is often confused with a portfolio. However, there are some significant differences that distinguish the two.
While programs can only contain interdependent projects, portfolios are composed of both programs and stand-alone, independent projects. Independent projects are those that don’t fall into a specific program but are nonetheless important. They might require different resources, or they might have objectives different from those associated with the other projects and programs within the portfolio.
The main difference between program management and portfolio management is explained by the industry leaders mentioned in the section above. They suggest that “portfolio management is a planning and decision-making process to select the optimum portfolio value, while program management is the function that ensures the portfolio value is attained.” In other words, portfolio management is the method of prioritizing projects and programs according to the overall business strategies, while the actual delivery of those strategies is the role of program management .
1. Program Management for Improved Business Results. Milosevic, Dragan Z. Russ Martinelli, James M. Waddell. Wiley: 2010.