A smiling man in front of his laptop who might be a program manager or project manager.

What is the Difference Between a Program Manager and a Project Manager?

How Program Managers and Project Managers Compare

It can be difficult to differentiate between a program manager and a project manager, as they share a lot of the same responsibilities. But there are key differences between the two positions that you need to know about. The same thing goes for program management vs. project management: while both play an important role in managing projects, their work is also different from one another. So whether you’re considering either as a future career or are looking to understand how these two camps might work better together, it’s important to know how they relate to each other. 

Let’s first differentiate the words program and project. 

Projects vs Programs

A project is a temporary undertaking with strict time, cost, resource budgeting constraints. The project manager’s goal is to deliver on its specific deliverables and objectives by the end date. It focuses on the content and output that it produces. It measures its success through product quality, timeliness, cost-effectiveness, compliance, and degree of customer satisfaction. 

Programs can take years to complete or months depending on what they’re trying to accomplish; they have underlying projects that build off one another for long-term business purposes. They concern themselves with the benefits received or the outcome that it produces. They measure their success through the extent of their outcomes meeting the needs and wants of the people they were targeting. 

Now placing these two terms in job roles, here are the differences in terms of job description and responsibilities.

What is a program manager?

A program manager is the liaison between a business and all the projects necessary to complete it. They are responsible for articulating the program’s strategy and objectives, assessing how they will impact your company, defining and overseeing dependent projects needed to reach overall goals, ensuring that all these pieces come together in order to create a beautiful home. The role of a program manager extends beyond completing individual projects: their job is to make sure everything comes together long-term so that you get what you want from the project.

Program managers use project-management skills to create an environment where projects can be completed and successful. They are responsible for overseeing a program’s progress, developing the strategy, and ensuring that the program meets its objectives by providing guidance on resources so they aren’t depleted or wasted in any way during this process.  There are many different types of programs such as IT systems modernization or new product development which all have their own unique set of deliverables required. The end goal is always to produce some kind of result that will help drive strategic benefits and organizational improvements over time through these various undertakings.

What is a project manager? 

Project managers are the backbone of project success. They oversee all aspects of a project, from start to finish, and ensure that deadlines are met. Project managers must be able to work with others in order to get tasks completed on time and within budget constraints. The role is more tactical than the program manager; if program managers are architects, project managers are painters, plumbers, and electrical engineers. Project managers focus more on tactical tasks like risk management, resource allocation/deployment during routine operations, budgeting constraints. 

They are also accountable for the successful execution of an entire project and focused mainly on execution and managing the functional elements of the project. This includes meeting deadlines, staying within budget, delegating tasks, and completing deliverables. A good PM knows how to delegate appropriately and can be hands-on when necessary.

3 Key Differences Between Program Managers and Project Managers 

To recap the key differences among the two managers, the table below offers a helpful and quick side-by-side comparison. 

Project ManagerProgram Manager
Oversee individual projectsSupervise groups of projects
Short-term, concrete deliverablesFocus on long-term business objectives

Despite the fact that the two roles can be differentiated, they are still interconnected with similar challenges in their respective roles and responsibilities.

Program and Project Managers: Different, But Quite Similar 

Despite having differences in their responsibilities, people confuse them in the first place because program and project managers have quite a lot in common. Both are responsible for overseeing many moving parts and must exhibit extreme organization and efficiency in order to juggle all of the challenges that come their way. They encounter many of the same challenges, including staying up-to-date on changes to their industry or company, and benefits from using similar techniques: 

1. Task Progressions in One Place

When you’re running a company, it can be difficult to keep all of your team members updated on what they should be working on. You need to make sure that each person is doing their job and getting the work done in the right order so that nothing gets left behind. Dashboards are an essential part of any successful business because they allow you to see progressions and statuses at one glance. Not only does this save time by not having to click around from page to page, but it also ensures that no tasks get forgotten or overlooked!

2. Freedom on Work Styles

In the workplace, people are often forced to work in a way that doesn’t suit them. Program and project managers can make their jobs easier by not forcing their work style on others. It is important for these professionals to be able to view a single program or project from different angles—think Kanban boards, tables, lists, and timelines. This means everyone involved can stay aligned while working in a way they find comfortable.

3. Managing Your Project Communications in One Place

It can be challenging to keep track of projects and program communications when you’re juggling multiple responsibilities. Utilizing applications that have built-in team chat features that let you collaborate with your team without having to worry about who’s doing what, or if something is being missed. With tools like these in hand, it’s easy to stay on top of everything from the initial project request through final delivery.

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