Difference Between a Program and Project Manager

Program Manager vs. Project Manager (Explained)

14-Jan 2021
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While program managers and project managers are very similar in title, their roles are vastly different. Though only one word separates them, it is essential to understand the roles of each manager and how they are assets to your business within the professional services sector. 

The words program and project shouldn’t be confused. Each denotes unique and separate tasks, but too many businesses do not have differentiated positions for the two roles. 

With two separate, well-defined roles for both a project manager and program manager as a part of your organization, you’ll see a clearer breakdown in responsibilities. This article will cover the primary differences between the two roles and the ways they can contribute to your business.


Program Manager vs. Project Manager 

Essentially, program managers oversee clusters of projects, long-term objectives, strategy, and overall business development. Project managers, meanwhile, oversee short-term goals and individual or single projects. You can define a program as a collection of projects, whereas a project can be described as a more concrete deliverable. 

Both program managers and project managers provide immense value to your organizations by fulfilling their respective duties — with program managers focusing on goals and project managers focusing on delivering a tangible body of work. 


Role of Program Managers

A program manager’s overall responsibility is to think of the big picture. A program manager may decide on overarching factors such as the budget, schedule, and goals for overall success. Their decisions should always support the long-term development of your business.  

In terms of program planning, the program manager sets an expansive roadmap of the planned work within a developing program. They must consider and organize individual projects within the larger context of your company’s strategies. 

A program manager may also be responsible for defining best practices within the company and streamlining organization-wide processes and policy. Because they drive the strategic direction of your organization, they are often customer-facing when your customers need to discuss or negotiate the nature of your work. 

Project management responsibilities also include budget tracking, resource allocation, and risk management. 


Role of Project Managers

Project managers play an essential role in the planning stages of individual projects. This includes tasks, monitoring, managing, and closing. These managers are responsible for the personnel working on the project, the resources dedicated to it, and the overall scope of the projects. The project manager’s decisions should be made with the individual project in mind. 

The tactical responsibilities of the project managers included coordinating with other project teams and other budgetary resources. They facilitate the delivery of their project within a set amount of time. This includes assigning tasks, setting a schedule, and developing a definitive roadmap. 

They may also define the budget and choose members of their team. Project managers must carefully track resources, risks, and any looming issues with their projects. 

With the help of their team, project managers must initiate, plan, execute, monitor, and close their individual projects. Though they focus mainly on their individual projects, a project manager must be familiar with the overall organization and its processes.  A great project manager is equipped with skills such as leadership, communication, prioritization, and adaptability. 


Ready to Make the Most of Your Program and Project Managers?

Though they seem similar, there are clear differences between the position of project managers and program managers. Project managers focus their full attention on individual projects and the teams working on them. Meanwhile, program managers should serve the overall success of the company. Project managers can support program managers by efficiently managing individual projects that contribute to the overall wellbeing of the organization. Likewise, program managers support project managers by allocating resources well and creating clear company-wide roadmaps which the individual project managers can follow.  

While program managers can provide project management services, it is beneficial for your organization to have personnel to fill both roles separately. If you only have a program manager, that may be too much stress and organizational pressure on one individual. 

Even organizations with well-defined positions for their program and project managers face challenges with communication and transparency, both within their own teams and with clients. To overcome breakdowns in communication, your organization can make use of project management tools to develop cohesive strategies and easily share progress. 

Learn more about how Accelo products can help your project and program managers work most effectively. Try Accelo’s services by signing up for a free trial today.

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