Please Share

What’s the Difference between Projects and Programs?

What's the difference between Projects and Programs?

Projects and Programs are similar… but different. And so ar Project Management and Program Management. Let’s see what those differences are.

This video is safe for viewing in the workplace.

This is learning, so, sit back and enjoy

Projects and Project Management

  • Single, specific endeavor
  • Clearly defined goals, objectives, scope, and outcomes
  • A clear end date from the start, for when the project will be complete
  • Tend to span months or a small number of years
  • Project managers aim to drive down uncertainty and lock in certainty
  • Risk management focuses on a clear set of risks
  • Split into workstreams to delegate responsibility and allow for task-focused teams
  • Rarely undertake tasks that are likely to be redundant.
  • Traditional projects aim to itemize tasks in a WBS during the planning stage.
  • Easily characterized stakeholder group, with clear focus on the matters to consult and communicate about
  • A single team that can be large and subdivided. One leader, the Project Manager.
  • Substantial changes and additions to scope are unwelcome and managed carefully
  • Success is related to the delivery of benefits from a defined set of deliverables
  • The outcome can include an element of change for the sponsoring organization. The project may or may not involve an element of change management.
  • Governance will focus on one individual and maybe a steering group

Programs and Program Management

  • Multiple projects and initiatives, managed together – often related through their goals, resource requirements, or scheduling.
  • Often diffuse outcomes that can shift and evolve
  • Often programs evolve and have no pre-determined end-date
  • Span multiple years and are often split into several multi-year phases
  • Program managers maintain flexibility to meet changing needs
  • Risk management happens at project and program levels. At program level, risks tend to be more complex and have greater impacts.
  • Split into projects to reduce complexity and de-risk against single-point failures
  • Often contain program elements that may later be dropped if not needed or if the value is not sufficient.
  • It is not possible to articulate a full task list at any point. The program will evolve.
  • Complex and wide-ranging stakeholder group, with wide agenda for consultation and communication.
  • Multiple teams with their own Project Leaders, with a Program Manager coordinating
  • Substantial changes to scope are expected, with new projects and initiatives slotted in as the business cases are approved
  • Success is related to benefits from wider-scale strategic objectives and organizational changes
  • The outcome will include significant change – and maybe transformation – for the sponsoring organization.
  • Actively managing the change will usually be one or more projects within the program.
  • Governance will sit at the highest organizational levels and may involve multiple top-tier officers or executives.

Projects and Programs

In simple terms, programs tend to be bigger, more complex, and less certain than projects. As a result, Program Managers tend to be more senior and more experienced professionals. The challenge for them is to throw out some of their drive towards control and certainty, and to embrace a mindset of cultivated uncertainty and flexibility. It may be too early to tell, but I do wonder if project managers with an agile mindset may make effective program managers.

Carefully curated video recommendations for you:

What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

Learn Still More

For more great Project Management videos, please subscribe to the OnlinePMCourses YouTube channel.

If you want basic Management Courses – free training hosted on YouTube, with 2 new management lessons a week, check out our sister channel, Management Courses.

For more of our Project Management videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management.

For more of our videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

follow me on: