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Picture source: wikipedia

The main confusion is often between the role of a program manager and a project manager. To understand the difference between these two let us first look at what a program is and what the differences are between a program and a project. A program normally comprises a set of sub-program and projects. Many large projects too consist of sub-projects, but the main differences are the ones listed below.




1 Ongoing, with longer time horizons, delivering incremental benefits End with specific deliverables
2 Measured on RoI and on-going benefits Measured on on-time, on-budget, on-specification delivery
3 Require ongoing funding, financial reporting and financial management Require one-off funding, reporting against deliverables and project profitability
4 Projects within a program normally deliver entities that have independent existence Sub-projects of a large project deliver entities that have existence only within the project deliverable
5 Large, with broad scope Narrow scope
6 Normally is aligned against a strategic objective Delivers against one of many goals that make a strategic objective


To know whether what you are dealing with is a program or a project, you can apply the above criteria as a filter and if most of the conditions under the “program” column are met then you are dealing with a program

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And what is your role? I think the following is a good summary of what a program manager’s role is and what the deliverables under each head are.


Program Manager


1 Plan for, coordinate and monitor the execution of the sub-programs to ensure the periodic continuing deliverables of the program 1.Program Plan
2.Risk / Mitigation plan
3.Success measurements and KPIs
4.Reviews and Reporting
5.Quality plans
6.Change Management
2 Ensure the delivery of the promised RoIs and benefits Periodic reporting against RoI and benefits
3 Measure and report on the program’s performance at organisational reporting period. Where required, coordinate resource utilisation flexibility to contribute to organisational results 1.Reporting against program performance and KPIs
2.Review of resources and reallocate resources for optimal use
4 Coordinate the integrated delivery of the various subprograms / projects of the program Integration review and reports
5 Leadership style focuses on managing relationships and conflict resolution 1.Periodic stakeholder satisfaction reports
2.SLA management
6 Monitor organisational strategy to ensure alignment of program to it. Periodic review with governance board on strategy alignment and benefits realisation


They are various tools described in literature that can be used for making your job more effective under the various heads above. Tools like Power-Interest Grid (PMI), Salience Model etc. can be used to analyse your stake-holders expectations and impact; other tools like value-complexity analysis, probability impact chart etc. can also be used to measure benefits and deliverables.

[1. The Power/Interest Grid is part of Project Communication Management as per the fourth version of the PMBOK.

2. The concept of Stakeholder Salience was proposed by Ronald K. Mitchell, Bradley R. Agle and Donna J. Wood in an article for The Academy of Management Review in 1997. The authors proposed a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience in response to the many competing definitions of ‘stakeholder’ and the lack of agreement ‘Who and What Really Counts’ in stakeholder management (Mitchell et al. 1997, p.853-854).]

The main thing to note about the role is that a program is long-term and hence your relationship with the stakeholders need to be more mature so that it lasts the life-time of the program. This “long-termness” also offers scope for financial adjustments to the organisation’s advantage. What you lose today can be overcome by gains tomorrow. This is not possible with a project.

It is as important to not do what is not your job as it is to do your job. I am not talking here about knowing how to delegate properly. You can delegate part of what your job is, but you can’t delegate what is not part of your job.

I have known many a program manager who have struggled with their roles. They end up doing jobs that the project managers under them should have been doing and thus miss the big picture.

It is important to think like a program manager and not a project manager. The key advice I can give here is:

  • Think big picture;
  • Think customer strategy;
  • Think stakeholder benefits;
  • Think relationships and
  • Think vision and leadership.

Question: How does the stage the program is in (starting, running etc.) when you take it over affect your approach in managing the program?

7 Tips for Effective Program Management (A practitioner’s approach) 

Tip 2 – Don’t fail to see the forest for the trees – Understand the big picture

Tip 3 – They hold all the stakes – Map them out

Tip 4 – Use support structures and technologies to your advantage

Tip 5 – Skating away on the thin ice of the new day – Keep your eye on the program risks

Tip 6 – Dot your I’s and cross your T’s – Understand the program commercials and contracts clearly

Tip 7 – Change management