Program vs. Project Management

Project management

Program vs. Project Management

If several project results are part of the same corporate goal or if a major project is divided into several sub-projects, it makes sense to combine projects into one program.

In the following text I would like to explain how the management of projects and programs differs.


The American Project Management Institute (PMI) has the definition of the terms project and program management in his PMI Lexicon of Project Management Terms released:

Project Management

The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements.

program management

The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to a program to meet the program requirements and to obtain benefits and control not available by managing projects individually.

The descriptions sound quite similar, but they already point to the decisive special feature of program management: With this form of management, results can be achieved that would not be achievable with project management. In program management, for example, you have the opportunity to harmonize budget, milestones and resources in the projects of a program. The program manager supports the project managers who report to him.

The program management does more than a scaled project management. The following management topics should clarify the differences between program and project.

Program vs Project

Projects always have a specific goal, for example in the form of developing a product or service. Programs are designed to cover a company's more far-reaching goals, such as continuously improving the quality of a product or reducing the cost of a service.

Projects and programs differ fundamentally in terms of their duration. Programs usually have a much longer term and are divided into program phases or projects. If you think of space programs, for example, they can run for several decades. Strategic corporate goals are planned for the long term and can often only be achieved through the sum of individual project successes.

budget management

The fixed relationship between program goals and corporate strategy also influences the financing of implementation and reporting on the achievement of certain milestones. Programs are more closely tied to a company's financial planning. Costs and profits are reflected more clearly in company figures because the budget to be managed is much larger. The budget coordination takes place across several projects, which does not make the whole matter any less complex. Program managers must report regularly, or at least at the end of each financial year, on the current financial position of the program and the successes achieved. the Return on Investment must be constantly checked.

Projects, on the other hand, are initially provided with a fixed budget and are given a fixed date for the end of the project. Budget management is automatically limited to the project itself. At the company level, reports can then be made either indirectly about the program or, in the case of strategically important or very large projects, directly about the budget consumption to be expected at the end of the project.

planning and monitoring

The level of detail in a project manager's planning is very high due to the direct relationship to the desired project result. However, the specific project goal is specified by the program. Program managers have to design abstract program plans that span the projects. With these, on the one hand, the achievement of the strategic corporate goal is determined, on the other hand, the project managers are supported in their planning.

The project manager monitors and controls the project on the basis of the constant review of the ongoing implementation of the project goal. The quality of the project result and compliance with the project deadline are sacred, taking into account the project costs. Program managers, on the other hand, monitor the progress of the entire program content, or the progress of several projects at the same time. In particular, you must keep an eye on the effect of mutual influences of the projects on the program goal and the compliance with milestones in the projects.

Due to its complexity, program management represents a major challenge for a company. That is why programs are usually led by an experienced committee in addition to the program manager. The members of the committee determine the orientation of the programs in accordance with the corporate goals. You have visibility into and control over all of the company's programs. The program manager must check the feasibility of the goals specified by the committee and then deliver the results according to the program plan. In addition to managing his project managers, he faces another challenge: He must be able to mediate between managers when there are disagreements. The program manager is the direct interface between a project in a program and the board or management. Project managers do not have to interact as much or at all at this high level and can therefore concentrate better on leading their project team.

Change management and evaluation

Once the planning is complete, project managers must expect changes for their current project. You may be able to use simple processes from previous projects to deal with the change appropriately. Program managers, on the other hand, are forced by the long running time of a program not to neglect the continuous improvement of the processes used. The handling of a change with an external origin is quite challenging, since it can affect the situation of several projects. An external factor can be, for example, a change in the market or a change in the legal situation, which in turn entails a change in the company's goals and thus the program. In such a case, a program manager must demonstrate special skills, for example in budget management, because the Return on Investment must not be significantly interrupted in order not to jeopardize the usefulness of the program.

Ultimately, the success of a project is measured based on the quality of the project result, compliance with milestones and the budget, and client satisfaction. Theoretically, the benefit should also be evaluated. A program, on the other hand, is measured by the degree to which its requirements have been met or by how high the program's ultimate practical benefit is for the company.


Program management definitely cannot be viewed simply as managing multiple projects simultaneously. Although redundant work in project management is no longer necessary and can be carried out centrally in program management, the program manager has far more interfaces to consider. The success of a program is essential for a company, which entails a great deal of responsibility for everyone involved. The task of program manager can only be entrusted to a very experienced project manager with extensive experience in budget and change management and with good knowledge of the direction of the company.