This post reviews the difference between a project and a program in more detail. Although both programs and projects are one of the primary vehicles through which an organization executes it strategy, there are differences. A project is composed of a set of activities required to deliver specific deliverables. As projects are focused on producing certain deliverables based on their scope, they have a defined beginning and an end and must be completed within an assigned budget. A project can be small and large depending on its scope.
A program on the other hand also has a fixed but much larger scope and budget but is defined in terms of its constituent benefits and the projects that will contribute to the delivery of those benefits. Programs are primarily meant to deliver organization benefits rather than deliverables. Programs, too, have a defined beginning and an end.
The Standard for Program Management by PMI defines the difference between projects and programs from the perspective of six dimensions, which are scope, change, planning, management, success criteria, and monitoring. Let’s review each of these briefly.
- Scope – While projects have a clearly defined scope, which is communicated in terms of deliverables, scopes for programs are much larger and are discussed in terms of organizational benefits. The scope for programs may take longer to become fully clear as it’s progressively elaborated and clarified through the initial phases of the program.
- Change – Potential changes at a project level are usually contained within and have a relatively limited impact, whereas program level changes usually have a much larger impact. Also, the changes in programs can originate from within or outside the program. Program managers, however, expect that project managers will control variability of scope, budget, and schedules to prevent any negative outcomes on the overall program.
- Planning – When it comes to planning, project managers plan projects starting from a high level scope to detailed level project plans that include detailed activities of the projects. In programs, on the other hand, planning is done both at a project and program level. We will discuss more of this later in this handbook.
- Management – In terms of managing projects and programs, project managers manage the project and their team members, whereas program managers manage the overall program, the associated project managers and a program’s team members.
- Success Criteria – Success in a project is measured based on the quality of the deliverables and overall project quality. In the program, however, success is measured based on the delivery of the benefits that the program initially committed to deliver at the start of the program.
- Monitoring – Project managers monitor the delivery of the specific activities and deliverables and the overall project milestones. Program managers on the other hand, monitor the overall roadmap developed at the beginning of the program and the performance of the delivery of benefits.
For a detailed explanation and more thorough comparison, visit Table 1-1 in PMI’s standard of program management.