GUIDE 2022

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

Curious to learn the truth about the project management vs program management debate?

Both project and product management are common practices seen across companies since they both help teams succeed in executing tasks.

That said, while both serve similar functions, there are key differences that distinguish one from the other.

A project is a single, focused effort that produces a tangible result. On the other hand, a program refers to multiple projects that teams manage and deliver as a single unit.

Let’s look at the difference between program and project management and how teams use each one to achieve their respective goals.

What is Project Management?

Project management is a practice that entails overseeing the activities of a single project inside an entire program. This management approach focuses on meeting a project’s operational aspects, such as meeting deadlines, remaining on budget, and completing program guidelines.

Credits: Research Gate

Project management requires a project manager and a team to complete the tasks that the project requires.

The project manager manages the team’s schedule, budget, and resources while delegating duties. They keep the program manager up to date on the project’s progress and any changes to the original plan.

A project manager is responsible for completing projects on schedule, on budget, and in compliance with overarching goals. They put together teams, plan project expenses, manage hazards, and ensure everyone delivers on their tasks on time. Examples include:

  • Project managers plan and obtain project resources such as budgets, teams, and tools.
  • Project managers establish objective alignment and communicate with stakeholders (including program managers) and project team members.
  • Project managers motivate team members, address pain spots, and drive quality assurance to keep projects moving forward.

What is Program Management?

Program management is the process of planning and executing a list of interdependent projects that a team has to complete in order to achieve a larger goal. An organization hires a program manager and a team to undertake these tasks, and ensure smooth functioning.

A program manager must concentrate on strategy, implementation, and prioritization of tasks within each sub-project to ensure the team meets its goals.  They must also define the program’s goals and objectives as well as how these objectives affect the firm.

Program managers oversee a set of operations that link to a single corporate purpose. The program manager makes sure the program follows the company’s strategic planning. Their tasks include:

Planning project timetables, budgets, and objectives with project managers

Collaborating with top management to help a firm achieve its goals and develop new initiatives
Facilitating project and cross-functional team cooperation

Program Manager vs Project Manager: Responsibilities

Project managers lead individual projects, whereas program managers handle several projects. As a result, the program manager has a more extensive portfolio and a larger share of responsibilities than a project manager for the organization.

Project Management vs Program Management

Credits: Atlassian

Since they oversee numerous projects, program managers have greater managerial responsibilities than project managers. This leads to increased accountability and pay for program managers.

Projects have set deadlines while programs have more flexible termination dates. A program manager is free to continue or recycle a program, but a project manager’s job ends when the project has come to an end. A project manager moves from project to project, but a program manager stays with the same program throughout their career.

Program Management vs Project Management Skills

Project managers must know how to manage risk, balance budgets, and use project management tools, in addition to having leadership qualities and practical communication skills:

  • Methodologies and approaches to project management (e.g., Agile, Waterfall, Scrum)
  • Budgeting/Financial skills
  • Risk management skills
  • Project management skills
  • Project management tools such as Asana, GANTT charts, and burndown charts

In addition to project management skills, there are a series of skills that are specific to program managers: 

  • Leadership skills
  • Management skills
  • Coaching skills
  • Business skills
  • Portfolio management skills

Program Manager vs. Project Manager: Key Differences

Qualifications

Hiring managers expect both project managers and program managers to have completed at least a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as Management, Business, and Finance, among others.

However, since program managers have more responsibilities under their belt, most hiring managers expect them to have specialized training to take on this type of position. It’s common to find program managers who have Master’s degrees in fields such as Project Management, Business Management, Program Management, or Entrepreneurship.  

Tools Required for the Job

Project managers use project management tools like Monday.com, Wrike, and ClickUp. Program managers must also be familiar with these project management software alternatives, along with industry-specific technologies, such as content management systems.

Occupational Obligations

Program and project managers oversee projects and help team members and key stakeholders to communicate in an effective way. Still, a project manager focuses on the intricacies of a single project, whereas a program manager oversees how numerous projects connect with company goals.

A program manager’s responsibilities often include project strategy, risk assessment and planning, quality control, and performance reporting to key stakeholders and leadership. Project managers are responsible for creating timetables, connecting with team members, and ensuring that deliverables and milestones are delivered on time.

Program Manager vs Project Manager: Salary Estimates

According to Glassdoor, as of May 2022, program managers earn an average of $87,952 a year in the United States. Glassdoor goes on to report that the salary estimates range from as low as $47K a year to $231K a year.

Glassdoor shared that as of May 2022, project managers earn an average of $92,020 a year in the U.S. Reported salaries range from $50K to $244K a year.

There are several factors that determine the salaries that these professionals pull in. Location is a major determinant in salary payouts. Those who work in more expensive cities such as San Francisco or Los Angeles earn more than a project or program manager in Austin, Texas. 

Project Management vs Program Management: Key Takeaways

Both project and program management are approaches that teams leverage to achieve their goals.

The main distinction is scope since projects are more minor, single-focused activities, and programs are more extensive continuous efforts. In terms of overall size, scope, and responsibility, the differences between a program manager and a project manager are minor but substantial.

Many people who climb to the program management level began their careers managing smaller initiatives, so it’s no surprise that they employ some of the same strategies.

Equip yourself with the knowledge of both disciplines to sharpen your skills as a product leader and guide your team to success. 

Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is the co-founder of Product HQ, founder of Technical Writer HQ, and founder and head of product of Squibler. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.