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

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20th Mar, 2023
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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. 

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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. 

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Project Manager vs Program Manager: Roles and Responsibilities 

Project managers are responsible for leading specific, immediate tasks and 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. 
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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, its 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.

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Project Manager vs Program Manager: Skills Required

Project Manager

Here are the 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 fulfil 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 parts 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.”

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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 on 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 promoting efficiency and sustainability. 
  8. Program managers should be able to collaborate with different departments and use their communication and interpersonal skills to create a favourable 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. 

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Who holds the higher hierarchy? Product Manager vs Project Manager

There is a tiff between the project managers and the product managers in any organisation. The product managers are considered to hold a higher hierarchy as compared to the project managers. 

The scope of work of the product manager lies in strategy making, the creation of a vision, and ensuring the success of the products or line of products.  Whereas, the project scope of work for the project managers lies in the planning and execution of the projects. 

Collaboration between project management vs program management

The product managers on managing the overall strategy, and vision, ensuring success for the product/ product line.  Whereas, the project managers ensure the successful execution of the given projects. 

The product managers work closely in collaboration with the project managers to ensure successful product development and launch time meeting the budget outline and goals deadline. 

The work collaboration usually lies in prioritising the product backlog, prioritisation, testing feature development, etc. Creating the go-to-market strategies is one of the scopes of work between the project manager and the product manager.   

The salary difference between Project Manager and Program Manager

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The salaries of the project manager and the program is guided by various factors such as geography, type of company, experience, size of the company, etc. The average salary for the project manager is 12 lakhs per annum. The average salary for the product manager is 17 lakhs per annum

Takeaway

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 affordable monthly emi’s to enhance placement opportunities. The 11-month Post Graduate Certificate in Product Management also opens doors to pursue an MBA Degree from the Top B-Schools of the UK & Australia. 

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Rohan Vats

Blog Author
Software Engineering Manager @ upGrad. Passionate about building large scale web apps with delightful experiences. In pursuit of transforming engineers into leaders.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1Q1. What is the difference between PMO and a project manager?

The project manager oversees several projects and takes care of various executive aspects of projects. PMO or Project Management Office is essentially a widely used concept in project management. It does not stand for Project Management Official; instead, it refers to professionals in the organization who assist project managers in managing projects by controlling and monitoring different execution aspects. From allocating resources for a project and gaining the support of stakeholders to creating contingency plans and tracking and motivating teams, the PMO is responsible for a wide array of tasks.

2Q2. How is a project coordinator different from a project manager?

In the field of project management, you will come across different designated professionals in charge of different project-related activities. Among them, the project coordinator and project manager play vital roles. While some of their tasks might overlap to attain the same organizational goals, their roles are pretty much different. With time and experience, project coordinators might transition to the position of project managers, but project managers are the official supervisors of the coordinators. A project coordinator will take care of administrative tasks for particular projects. They actually assist project managers in performing essential duties and free up time for them to look after more critical issues.

3Q3. What are the top competencies that PMO leaders should have?

The role of a PMO leader can be challenging; unlike the project manager's role, there will be only one PMO leader and not several others. So PMO leaders have to be self-reliant while they carry out their responsibilities alone. An effective PMO leader should possess competencies related to business, leadership, and technology, apart from a passion for the work. Being skilled with business acumen and understanding the laws and regulations of the specific industry is extremely vital, along with practical leadership skills to manage a team. Being technically competent and enthusiastic is also necessary to excel as a PMO leader.

4Who are the top employers for product management roles?

The top companies that are hiring for the role of product managers are Ola, Google, Uber, Microsoft, PayPal, Myntra, and Flipkart.

5 Who are the top employers for project management roles?

The top companies hiring for the project management roles are IBM, Deloitte, Bank of America, Verizon, Accenture, Honeywell, and JP Morgan.

6Is product manager a stressful job?

Being a product manager comes with a lot of responsibilities. A product manager has a the whole responsibility to manage the product line, from development to the launch. They work in collaboration with various other teams and stakeholders and ensure the successful life of any product in any market place.

7 Is project manager a stressful job?

Being a project manager can be stressful. They are responsible for the on time deliver of the projects within the scope of the budget and goals. They make sure to make maximum use of the resources available and manage to deliver on time.