What is program in project management?

You may have come across buzzwords like “program” and “project” doing their rounds in the industrial circuits. You may have even used these in meetings, presentations, or general business communication. But did you know that projects and programs are not the same? And are you guilty of using these terms interchangeably? If your answer to these questions is yes, then you have come to the right spot. Here, we will be taking an in-depth look at what a program means in project management and how the two are different from each other.

Table of Contents

  • What is a Program?
  • The Different Types of Programs
  • The Role of Program in Project Management
  • Advantages of Program in Project Management
  • Program vs. Project Management


What Is a Program?

A project is a collection of tasks and activities driven by a common purpose and aimed at achieving a specific goal. And when one zooms out to a macro level, a program is a bundle of projects and activities bound by common characteristics.

Here’s a quick illustration:

  • Project: To implement an HRMS solution.
  • Program: To digitize all the business processes.
    Hence, effectively, programs are a parent class to projects. These programs are designed and coordinated in a synchronized manner to deliver the best outcomes while extracting the maximum benefits. The key defining qualities of a program include:
  • Size: Programs, being a collection of projects, are generally large in size and volume.
  • Goals: As programs occupy the top tier of business operations, they chase organization-level targets.
  • Scope: Since programs are much like a project portfolio, they are general in nature, with the specifics detailed at the lower levels.
  • Strategy: Since programs are more complex, they employ a multi-layered strategy to achieve long-term business goals.


The Different Types of Programs

  • Visionary programs
  • Emerging programs
  • Mandatory programs

Let’s examine them one by one.

Visionary programs
As the name indicates, a leader’s vision acts as the driving force that births this program.
As the name indicates, a leader’s vision acts as the driving force that births this program.
The most important characteristic for the success of the Visionary Program lies in the commitment and support that it generates. As such, program managers will have to champion their cause and bring maximum people on board.

Emerging programs
Emerging Programs arise out of operational difficulties that employees face while working on their respective projects. In other instances, it could be due to the creeping scope of a project that turns out to be a larger initiative than previously imagined. As such, these programs do not start off as a full- fledged program but rather mushroom along the way – hence the term “emerging.”
Emerging Programs bring different projects under the umbrella of common leadership, making hand- offs and resource sharing more streamlined. To combat the issues of emerging programs, managers work on building a unified framework that handles dependencies, costs, and resources. Typically, it witnesses the involvement of scheduling software to patch together the gaps.
And while Visionary Programs are more evergreen, Emerging Programs lie on the shorter end of the spectrum. Another contrast between the two lies in the fact that Emerging Programs follow a bottom-up approach to problem-solving.

Mandatory programs
Mandatory programs are driven by external circumstances, say, for instance, the legal or regulatory setup. It reflects how business management resides in a dynamic world and is subject to constant changes. These programs generally improve compliance and generate new policies and process changes or updates their governing terms and conditions.
So, if your business were to take on an exercise of GDPR compliance or commitment to the government’s initiative of a cashless economy, the initiative would fall under mandatory programs.

The Role of Program in Project Management

By now, it may have become clear that the role of program in project management is crystal clear – to club similar and related work to maintain cohesiveness.

Very few business activities can sustain as an isolated, standalone effort. In most cases, any major task will set off ripples that may affect or at least interact with another set of activities. And by acquiring a holistic and bird’s eye view of all the action, every participant can contribute to the overall organizational growth and development.

While projects can be haphazard and short-term, programs in project management act as the pole star, which guides the company towards its strategic goal.

Greater alignment
Programs in project management implement end-to-end goal alignment. As a result, there is absolute clarity on what the organization aims to achieve. The alignment explicitly points out the deliverables expected of each individual, team, or unit, which keeps everyone on the same page and is super-focused on meeting these objectives.

Higher efficiency
Program management gathers a portfolio of projects, and this grouping allows the program manager to view the overall progress and productivity of the workforce. It draws attention to any bottlenecks that may be hampering the company’s smooth functioning.

Improved resource management
One of the greatest advantages of program management lies in the fact that it bridges teams and departments that may otherwise act individually. Since these bodies are typically working towards common goals, it is highly possible that they may share common resources as well. However, this resource sharing could also lead to inefficiencies and inaccessibility of resources.
With programs tying together common or related projects together, managers can assign resources as per priority.

Better risk action plan
A combination of improved efficiency and smarter resource management allows for hands-on risk management strategies. Program managers are at the helm of all affairs can easily chalk out a Plan B in case Plan A fails to take off. It also standardizes feedback loops and reporting structures throughout the organization, which allows for the maintenance of a recurring risk record.

Program vs. Project Management

As the role of a program in project management becomes more pronounced, it becomes easier to assess the differences between program management and project management.

For starters, project management operates on a narrow, single-minded goal of limited outputs. On the other hand, program management objectives run along the lines of the mission and vision of the company and its leaders.

Next, programs are generally transformative and revolutionary, whereas only the large projects can be as impactful and earth-shattering as programs. Hence, the managerial expectations are also proportionate.

Finally, program management involves overseeing the successful delivery of an entire program. As such, program managers have to astutely balance the resources, time, and budget to facilitate the discharge of a project manager’s duties. Project management requires shouldering of fewer responsibilities.

Final Thoughts

It is now apparent that programs are crucial in project management and its resultant success. Project management makes resources easy to manage and more accessible depending on business priorities. It transforms how the teams function and how they are managed, which will eventually lead to the company’s success!

Related FAQs

1) What Is a Deliverable in Project Management?
2) What Is a Resource in Project Management?