Project Management vs. Program Management: What’s the Difference?

When we think of project management and program management, they come off as two sides of the same coin. However, this is far from the truth. While the skills and challenges pertaining to these fields are similar, project management and program management are two unique and separate entities. This is precisely our topic of discussion today – the difference between project management and program management. 

So, keep scrolling if you wish to understand the nuances of project management and program management and find out their differences!

Project vs. Program

There is a fundamental difference between a “project” and a “program.”

A program is defined as “a group of projects” that aims to fulfill a common long-term goal without any specific deadline. Programs are flexible and involve many dedicated groups that are assigned different “projects” to handle. 

A project is usually a goal set for a stipulated amount of time, one with a defined start date and a stringent deadline. It is a tactical process that takes into account budget and resource constraints in its execution. 

Projects have short term operational goals like managing a project within the estimated budget or completing a task using the assigned resources. Programs, on the other hand, have long term goals pertaining to business and operations like improving a firm’s business strategies or generating higher revenue. 

Project Manager vs Program Manager: Roles and Responsibilities 

Project managers are responsible for leading specific, immediate tasks projects that serve a company’s small-term goals. This involves planning, coordination, resource allocation, and the ultimate execution of the project. Their job is to focus on the timely delivery of projects using the assigned resources and budgets. 

A project manager usually reports to a program manager. 

A program manager is responsible for the broader goals and visions of a company. They are tasked with strategizing overarching missions for a company based on government standards and market shifts. Program managers directly influence a company’s finances and business practices. 

Project Management vs Program Management: The Basic Differences

These are the three significant differences between program management and project management to keep in mind:

1. Managing Projects

Program managers have the control to lead and head multiple projects, while project managers take responsibility for single projects that require immediate execution.

2. Business Goals

Program management focuses on long-term plans with no deadlines, whereas project managers deal with short-term, specific, data-oriented goals.

For instance, projects are targeted at delivering an end product which could either be a website, a software application, or an offline event. Programs have implications on the way a business works, their policies, or the revenue they generate.

3. Necessary Skills

Program managers should exhibit leadership and organizational skills while project managers should be decisive and capable of achieving goals under stressful circumstances.

Project Manager vs Program Manager: Skills Required

Project Manager

Here are skills that a successful project manager must possess:

  1. Project managers should be critical thinkers who can adjust their capacities as per the company’s unique needs and goals.
  2. They should work in a time-bound manner, adhering to specific deadlines.
  3. They should be able to locate and solve random, unprecedented problems promptly.
  4. Project managers require effective, predictive analysis and planning skills to achieve company goals.
  5. They require excellent communication skills to keep team members motivated to fulfill their duties.

Project Managers Deal with “WHAT”

Apart from strategic planning and execution, project managers must track the progress of the project at every stage to ensure there are no issues, bugs, or undesired functionalities. Risk management and quality assurance is a critical part of their job. 

They are also required to review team performance and provide constructive feedback wherever necessary. Therefore, they should have the required communication and interpersonal skills to ensure peaceful working conditions for everyone. The focus always remains on the specifics of the project and they generally deal with the “what” of an action. For instance, “launching a new website”, or “creating a new app.”

Program Manager

Here are the skills a program manager should possess:

  1. They should have professional leadership skills to head a large group of projects and efficiently divide the managerial work between different projects.
  2. They must possess prerequisite knowledge of program management methodologies.
  3. Program managers must have practical communication skills to facilitate mutually beneficial client-company relationships.
  4. They must exhibit credibility in monetary and material allocations.
  5. Delegation is an important part of their job profile. Program managers must know to assign responsibilities in a manner that impacts the efficiency and productivity of an organization.
  6. They should have the teamwork capacities to work with a project as well as the leadership capacities to manage an entire program.
  7. Since project managers are in charge of several projects, they must learn to prioritize tasks and allocate resources accordingly, hence promote efficiency and sustainability. 
  8. Program managers should be able to collaborate with different departments and use their communication and interpersonal skills to create a favorable atmosphere for employees to carry out their duties.

Program Managers Deal with “WHY”

Program managers require all-encompassing, effective organizational skills to ensure the smooth functioning of all the projects under them. They focus on making available resources: monetary and material, to allocate to different projects. 

They generally seek to answer the “why” of the action; for example, “to lead to significant business growth”, or “to bring about a change in company policy.”

While program managers stay updated about the ongoing processes in the various projects they are managing, they do not get involved with their minute details. They have an integral role to play in cross-team collaborations, elaborate consumer-company relations, and milestone management. Like in the former, communication skills are an essential part of successful program management. 


Both jobs are equally important for an organization. However, both careers would require specific job skill sets and eligibility criteria to ensure recruiters are able to scoop the best out of the managers’ pool. This is to ensure they can adequately enhance company profits and reach intended goals.

upGrad can help both project management and program management aspirants get certified from IMT Ghaziabad at only Rs 5740/month to enhance placement opportunities. The 11-month PG Program in Management course also opens doors to pursue an MBA Degree from the Top B-Schools of the UK & Australia. 

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