Differences between Program manager and Project manager: the two roles compared

program manager and project manager (2)

Program managers and project managers, two roles with similar titles will not be so different, right? Wrong!

It is easy to get confused for the assonance, but above all because in some companies the Project Manager carries out tasks and activities that are very similar to those of the Program Manager.

In reality, the Program Manager and the Project Manager, although sharing similar responsibilities, have positions that are quite distinct due to key differences.

Projects vs. Programs

Before discussing the similarities and differences between the two roles, it is fundamental to understand what is the difference between projects and programs.

Projects are temporary, are implemented one-off, and are generally limited by costs, resources, budgets and time constraints.

Projects have clear end dates and short-term goals that turn into tangible results or derivables.

program manager goals

The programs are instead composed of several underlying and interconnected projects.

These projects complete each other in order to achieve a broader and longer-term business goal.

A successful program brings strategic benefits and organizational growth, rather than a single tangible result.

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In short, a project manager has a more focused view on work within a single project; on the other hand, the program manager has a broad view of all workflows that lead to a “higher” goal.

Who is a Program Manager?

A Program Manager is a professional who articulates the strategy and goals of a program. His assessment will focus on how the program will impact the company in general.

The achievement of the general goals will pass from a list of interdependent projects that He (or She) must define, manage, and supervise.

The program manager creates a main schedule for managing dependencies between projects. A program risk management plan and a program communication plan are thus created.

The program manager therefore does not manage the projects, but rather provides the necessary supervision to ensure that the pieces of each project are completed in an effective and efficient way. The goal is to meet the needs of other projects in order to achieve the overall goal.

It may be useful to think of a program manager as an architect who designs a project.

An architect does not install the electrical system and does not build the walls of a house, but makes sure that all these pieces come together to create a solid and usable building.

program manager workers

The role of the Program Manager goes beyond the completion of individual projects and has as focus the long-term implementation of the whole company program.

The responsibilities of the Program Manager

The responsibilities of the Program Manager include: recruiting teams, implementing strategies, measuring ROI and other high-level activities and tasks.

A program manager is a highly qualified leader with a vision towards the future of the company.

The program manager should correctly and accurately inform the project managers of the corporate goal that needs to be achieved.

If the business strategy changes, the program manager must communicate it to the various project managers so that they are aware of the changes and can implement them into the individual projects.

The program manager focuses on the strategy and implementation plan and, as a result, delegates projects according to these factors.

The control of a program manager goes well beyond the life span of the single projects and focuses on long-term benefits for the company.

Who is a Project Manager?

The project manager manages the operations of the individual projects within the programs.

He (or She) coordinates the time, budget and resources needed to complete the work within the program guidelines. Moreover, he reports to the Program Manager on progress and any changes made to the initial project plan.

The role of the project manager is more tactical than that of the program manager. If program managers are architects, project managers are like team leaders.

A project manager focuses mainly on the execution and management of the functional elements of the project, this includes meeting deadlines, respecting the budget, delegating activities and achieving results.

Once the project has been completed and its goal has been achieved, the role of the project manager, with respect to that single project, ceases.

Program Manager and Project Manager

Let’s recap the three main differences between a program manager and a project manager:

  • Program managers supervise groups of projects; project managers supervise individual projects;
  • Program managers focus on long-term business goals; project managers work to achieve concrete results in the short term;
  • Program managers are strategic; project managers are tactical.

One can think and believe that a program manager possesses a wider range of skills and power with respect to a project manager.

In reality, a program manager must wear different glasses in order to look at the program from different perspectives and thus have an overview.

Through these different perspectives, the correct identification and segregation of individual projects arises in order to achieve the company goal.

Once these perspectives are established and segregation is carried out, the role of project managers becomes prevalent.

Project managers do not need glasses to get a general vision, but rather they focus on the goals of the project and manage the process and the workflow that can lead to the success of the single project.

After listing the main differences between these two professional roles, it remains only to mention a great resemblance between the two.

Both are “structured” roles that require heterogeneous skills and individuals who want to strive to make a difference in the business and industrial world to which they belong.

Did you know the difference between project manager and program manager? Do you believe there are further noteworthy differences between these two? Leave us your opinion.

Manage programs and projects professionally.

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