How to Make a Program Management Plan


A program is a collection of projects that relate to one another, and are therefore managed together in order to achieve maximum efficiencies. The advantages of managing these similar projects make them stand better together than by themselves.

However, that doesn’t mean they don’t programs don’t require the same laser focus on planning that individual projects require. A program management plan works similarly to any project plan in that it defines policies, procedures and processes to follow and reach your program goals and objectives.

Program Management vs Project Management

Before explaining what a program management plan is, it’s important that we’re clear on the difference between program and project management. In many ways, they’re similar—except for one fundamental difference.

That difference is that, in project management, your effort is directed solely at producing a final deliverable quickly, without impacting quality and staying on the agreed-upon timeline and budget. Program management, however, follows the lodestar of creating benefits to the organization with synergy from co-management of multiple projects.

Another difference is that projects can be contracted out. The organization running the project is working for a stakeholder, who can or cannot be part of that organization. A real estate company erecting a skyscraper is likely to seek bids from construction contractors, rather than execute the project in-house.

However, programs are managed almost always within an organization. That is, the program manager is not a contract worker, but a part of the larger business; and the program manager is integrally attached to their strategic goals and objectives.

To sum it up, projects are temporary and deliver a service or product, and programs are a group of related projects that are collectively managed to get benefits that cannot be achieved individually.

What is a Program Management Plan?

Managing anything requires a plan, and this is certainly true for programs.

ProjectManager's portfolio view
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A program management plan exists to manage, execute and control the program and its goals and objectives. Therefore, the program plan, like any plan, will outline the overview and strategy for the program. To do this, the program must be clearly defined and its scope outlined.

The plan is developed by a program manager, who understands the strategy and objectives of the program. A program plan is concerned more with benefits than deliverables. Its success parameters are not the same as a project in that it doesn’t necessarily need a quality deliverable on time and within budget. For a program plan, success lives in how the program is meeting the needs and benefits of the organization.

Key Elements of a Program Management Plan

Any program is going to have dependencies and constraints. The program plan must identify these and include them in the plan. This includes how the benefits of the program will be realized through its management.

Because a program is a collection of many projects, it is helpful to include a roadmap in the plan. A roadmap is usually set up as a timeline on which the tasks that make up the project are points, with start and end dates. However, since this is a program, there are several projects mapped across the timeline, which helps to strategize and collaborate.

The plan will include governance, an organizational structure and the process used to plan, control and execute the program plan. This includes a schedule, communication plan, procurement, risk, closeout procedure and all the other general aspects of creating any project plan.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart
Gantt charts can help you make a schedule for your program—Learn More

You’ll need to define key deliverables. Even a program has deliverables, as it’s made up of projects. The deliverables might not be the prime reason for the program, but they are important milestones that need to be understood.

Tips for Creating a Program Management Plan

When making a program management plan, there are certain things you need to keep in mind. They tend to be similar to creating a project management plan but stay aware of the differences between the two. Remember, a project plan is directed towards its deliverable, but programs have a more strategic goal for PMOs.

List Goals & Objectives

That said, the first thing anyone making any plan needs to do is define what they’re trying to achieve. List the goals and objectives to make sure your plan stays within those parameters. You can’t achieve your goals if they’re not clear.

Therefore, communication, as in all projects, is paramount. Without a designated channel, determined frequency and targets, to who your messages are aimed, there are going to be problems.

Plan Communication

Communication includes keeping stakeholders updated. In the case of programs, the stakeholders are those in your organization, usually at an executive level, who want to see the return on their investment reflected in your program reporting. The program plan needs to outline those communications, how often and with what materials, including defining their expectations.

Make a Timeline

Next, you’re going to have to deal with the timeline and scope of all the projects in your program. This means your overall budget and how it reigns in the scope of your program. You’re going to have to find a balance between those two aspects of the program. While you don’t have a schedule that ends with a quality deliverable, you do have a series of smaller deadlines inherent in each project that must be managed in your program plan.

Include Your Stakeholders

Be sure to sure you plan not only with stakeholders but your team. Transparency is important. The team are on the front lines of your project, and they will provide you with valuable data through their engagement and observation. In turn, you want them to know the program plan, so they can make educated choices when forced to act.

Once you’ve met with stakeholders and the teams responsible for executing the various projects, you have both a macro and micro view of the project. This will inform your program plan as you finalize it.

Multiple Project Tracking Template

This multiple project tracking template for Excel can help you monitor the progress of multiple projects simultaneously. Not only that, but it allows you to zoom into the costs, percentage of completion, due dates and priority level of all the tasks that make up each project in your program or portfolio.

multiple project tracking template for Excel

We offer a variety of free PMO templates you can use to manage all aspects of your projects, programs and portfolios.

How ProjectManager Helps with Program Management Plans

Don’t forget that all this planning can be facilitated by an online program management tool, such as ProjectManager. Our online tool makes sure you have the most current information to make better, data-driven decisions.

Managing a program is hard, but it’s even more difficult if you’re jumping from project to project to gather data. With our Overview Projects view, you get a list of every project in your program. You see the project title, who is managing it, the team executing it and the status. From this high-level view you can manage your program.

ProjectManager's overview of projects
A screenshot of the Overview Projects page in ProjectManager

Create Custom Program Dashboards

From the Overview Projects view, you can also organize and group your projects. When you select certain projects and group them in a folder, you can then filter by this group on the Overview Dashboard, which shows six charts tracking program metrics such as health, workload and progress. With this high-level view of your program’s progress and performance, you can catch issues and make changes to fine-tune the effectiveness of your program.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project
A screenshot of the Overview Dashboard page in ProjectManager

Track Your Projects with a Roadmap

Another powerful tool is the program roadmap, which collects all the projects in your program and displays them on a Gantt chart timeline. You get to see all of your programs down to the task level in one place and how they relate to one another and if there are any dependencies. But this isn’t a static view. Filter by assignee, project manager or customer, see duration, planned start and finish dates and more. Show stakeholders key metrics during presentations.

ProjectManager's roadmap
A screenshot of the Overview Roadmap page in ProjectManager

To match resources to the capacity of your program, we have robust resource management for your entire program. Features help you track, manage and report on the resources across your program. Our workload page gives you the tools to balance your teams’ workload to boost productivity.

ProjectManager is an award-winning online tool that helps programs get organized to maximize their profitability. Our real-time dashboard, dynamic roadmaps and one-click reporting give you the tools to manage, track and report on progress and performance to keep your program aligned with overall strategic goals. See how we can help your program management plan by taking this free 30-day trial today.