What Is a Program in Project Management?

A program is a cluster of related projects that are managed in a coordinated manner, so they can be executed simultaneously and share resources, activities and stakeholders.

What Is Program Management?

Program management is a strategic management approach to executing and controlling multiple related projects. The goal of program management is to drive benefits to the entire program by sharing project resources, costs and activities.

Managing related projects simultaneously creates opportunity for synergies that would be elusive if one was to manage each project separately. This requires more complex management than guiding an individual project, as the focus of program management is broader.

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When undertaking the task of managing a program, program managers rely on powerful software tools that allow them to plan, monitor and report on performance. With ProjectManager’s online suite of program management tools, you can make the right decisions for you and your organization.

ProjectManager's portfolio management summary showing several projects

With the help of these software tools, program managers group similar projects together into a program. Then, they use various techniques, knowledge and skills to manage them together for the greatest return on investment.

Program Management vs Project Management

Program management, or programme management, deals with a group of related projects, while project management only involves one project. Programs tend to be larger, more general and the driving strategy is long-term.

Programs are created from a business high-level view, while projects are much more specific. A program plan is meant to achieve strategic goals and business objectives of organizations. They have flexible deadlines and seek long-term benefits. On the contrary, projects have strict deadlines and seek quality control, timeliness and cost effectiveness to produce deliverables.

The major difference between program management and project management is that the scope of a program is much broader and more adjustable, while a project is defined by its deliverables. Programs are a persistent exercise, while projects have defined start and end dates, which are specified in the project plan.

Achieving the strategic plan and strategic vision of an organization usually requires long-term programs that consist of various individual projects. The program governance and program management plan define how those projects will be executed. Large organizations usually need to execute several programs at a time, which are part of their project portfolio.

Program Management vs Project Portfolio Management

Program management is not the same as project portfolio management. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project portfolio as “projects, programs, subsidiary portfolios, and operations managed as a group” in its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) book. So, in simple terms, a project portfolio is the larger group of projects and programs that an organization is executing at some point.

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What Is a Program Manager?

The program manager role generally requires an individual with a program management certification. A program manager is responsible for overseeing the life cycle of a program by working with different teams, project managers, portfolio managers and stakeholders.

What Does a Program Manager Do?

A program manager is a Program Management Professional (PgMP) that specializes in the strategic management of a group of related projects and attempts to create efficiencies and achieve the strategic goals and objectives of the organization they work for.

Program managers will work across multiple projects to build on interdependencies, direct the project managers who manage the individual projects in the program and facilitate communication between cross-functional teams.

Program Manager Responsibilities

Among other duties, the main responsibilities of a program manager are risk management, quality control, change management, managing stakeholder communications and reporting. Program managers also have to collaborate with portfolio managers to make sure that their program plan aligns with their organization’s program portfolio management plan.

These are the responsibilities that a program manager typically must account for in their day-to-day duties:

Program Planning

Program planning is where program management starts, and ensuring that your program is plan is built properly is of utmost importance. Having a well-thought-out program management plan saves time and money, and allows program managers to anticipate risk and preliminarily lay out methods to resolve it. Like any plan, a program management plan breaks down the larger chunks of work into smaller, more manageable bits. A program work breakdown structure allows program managers to do just that.

ProjectManager's program management roadmap

Cost Control

Programs cost money to run, and how much of a financial commitment the program will require must be estimated upfront. Therefore, once a basic program plan is in place, it’s up to the program manager to figure out how much it will cost to run. The more accurate this analysis, the better for the organization’s budgeting in the long-term.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

Program Management

With a plan in place and the money to fund it, the program manager must manage the execution of the various projects in the program. Program managers typically live on tools like Gantt charts, which are essential to tracking program success. With a Gantt, program managers can break down their programs into phases, and can drill into their constituent projects down to the task level. These program management tools allow program managers to use real-time data as an input for their decision-making process, which is a program management best practice.

Change Management

Projects always change, so it stands to reason that programs that hold those projects must change as well. Program managers must have change management processes in place to manage those changes. Changes can come from stakeholders or internally and they can also be external changes due to supply chain, weather and other forces. Wherever they originate, these changes must be identified, approved or denied and then responded to.

Program Management Key Terms

Many terms used in program management are the same as those in project management. It’s still helpful to run through the bigger ones to better communicate what program management is and how it differentiates from project management.

  • Program: In project management, a program is a group of several projects that must be executed simultaneously to get benefits and achieve program goals that wouldn’t be obtained by managing them individually.
  • Program Management: Is the application of program management skills, techniques and tools to plan, execute and control programs. It’s also called programme management.
  • Program Management Office: Similar to a project management office, the program management office helps members across organizations to get involved in the execution of programs.
  • Milestone: Marks the beginning or end of a phase in an individual project, usually around related deliverables. Helps track progress.
  • Stakeholder: Anyone with a vested interest in the project or program.
  • Baseline: Used to measure performance by capturing the schedule, cost and scope of a project plan. Then actual progress can be compared against this.
  • Triple Constraint: Three areas that impact any project or program, being time, scope and cost, which must be balanced to maintain progress. Quality is often included as the fourth point on this triangle.
  • Program Governance: Refers to all the different actions that are taken to monitor and control the success of a program at every stage of its life cycle, such as meetings, reporting, risk management, change management among other elements of governance.
  • Program Plan: A program plan is the set of documents that are developed to guide the program execution and monitoring. It’s also known as the program management plan.
  • Program Management Framework: Encompasses every component, participant, process, tool and methodology required for a program.
  • Program Portfolio:Is a group of programs and related activities that can be executed collectively to meet strategic goals and business objectives. Program portfolio management refers to the actions taken by management to successfully handle program portfolios.
  • Program Life Cycle: Made up of five stages, formation, organization, deployment, appraisal and dissolution.
  • Foundation Stage: Iterative process that defines the program’s expected benefits by analyzing the expectations of stakeholders.
  • Organization Stage: Creating the program’s business case, program management plan, program governance, operational procedures, etc.
  • Deployment Stage: Delivering capacities of the program’s projects on a cyclical basis.
  • Appraisal Stage: Assessing program benefits and evaluating whether they meet expectations, done repeatedly throughout the program life cycle.
  • Dissolution Stage: Agreement among stakeholders that it’s time to close out the program.
  • Roadmap: Gantt chart timeline that gathers all the projects in a program and charts them together down to the task level.
  • Risk Management: A way to identify potential issues that can arise in a program and have a plan in place to reduce their impact if they do occur.
  • Business Plan: Describes goals of a project or program and the strategies to achieve them.
  • Program Work Breakdown Structure: Defines the work and results necessary to complete the program. It differs from a project work breakdown structure because it’s produced from a broader, program-level perspective.
  • Change Management: Method to manage change, whether internal or external, a formalized process involving identifying, planning, tracking, etc.

Basics of Program Management

A program manager takes on the task of looking at a variety of related projects and figuring out how to manage them collectively to maximize efficiency and achieve program goals that require said projects to be executed simultaneously. The program management process is dependent on proper planning, just as in the management of any individual project. The difference, though, is that program management tends to be an ongoing activity in most organizations.

Program management, then, is a process that focuses on the macro over the micro, which includes:

  • Checking in on programs and performing daily management activities
  • Overseeing the development and implementation of the program management plan, program governance and budgets for each program
  • Managing both resources and communications across all projects with their stakeholders
  • Ensuring that project deliverables from projects within the program plan match with the overall program goals
  • Coordinating all program documents with project interdependencies, ensuring that they’re all on the same page

What program management is not:

  • Handling the day-to-day minutiae of a single project and its tasks
  • Choosing, prioritizing and ensuring all projects and programs make sense for the company’s objectives
  • Selecting the right products at the right time
  • Focusing on project execution
  • Tracking and reporting on specific project constraints

What Is Program Management Software?

Program management software is the most valuable asset of a program management office. It allows managers to plan, organize and manage their resources across an array of projects and set up an appropriate program governance. It’s designed to control the scheduling of multiple projects and their related costs, budget, resource allocation and more.

Project management training video (bikks3es40)

Every program management software is slightly different, some offering more holistic features, while others focus on specifics related to finding and capitalizing on the synergies between projects in the program.

At a bare minimum, you’ll want a tool that can manage tasks, has a communication platform that keeps everyone on the same page and a means to monitor and track progress. Microsoft Project is one of the most commonly used project management software, but it has major drawbacks that make ProjectManager a better choice for program management.

Benefits of Online Program Management Software

Having an online program management software that can help you coordinate the management of the many projects in your program is essential. Here’s how it can help:

  • Facilitate the project planning process
  • Collect projects into program governance groups
  • Facilitate resources throughout program
  • Gather program details in one-click reports
  • Live data to make better decisions
  • Display live metrics on program management dashboard
  • See and balance your team’s workload from same page

Must-Have Features of Program Management Software

When you’re looking for an online program management software, it should meet certain criteria. Whatever tool you invest in, make sure it has these features:

Get Visibility Down to the Task Level

Gantt charts are visual tools that place tasks on a timeline, which is key to planning and scheduling your projects. Program management software can also use a Gantt chart as a program roadmap that shows all the projects in your program on one timeline to highlight key metrics.

Gantt Charts image

Stay on Track With Real-Time Metrics

Dashboards collect data from your program and display them in graphs and charts. You want a dashboard that doesn’t have to be manually configured and automatically calculates various metrics for a quick, high-level view of your progress and performance.

Dashboards image

Keep Updated on What You’re Spending

In order to stay on budget, you have to have a means to monitor and track the costs associated with your program. Resources must be allocated where they’re needed in the program without overspending. Having a feature that tracks your budget-to-cost ratios helps you do this.

Cost Tracking image

Know How Much Time Your Team Is Logging

Keeping track of the time spent on tasks is essential to staying on schedule. Timesheets can offer more than a way to streamline your billable hours, they track the hours your team works. You can estimate how long tasks will take, then compare actual progress vs. planned.

Time Management image

Control Teams & Tasks Across Program

Programs are successful when the details of each individual project are controlled. Some projects in your program might have overlapping teams, so you need a feature that lets you manage their tasks and allocated hours to keep their work efficient.

Team Management image

Manage Tasks Visually

Program managers need transparency into their teams’ work in order to keep things moving smoothly forward. Kanban boards visualize workflow and help managers allocate resources as they’re needed. They see the production cycle for each project and can clear roadblocks.

Kanban Boards image

Managing Programs With ProjectManager

Program management software is a tool that helps collectively drive efficiency across all your projects. It helps program managers to plan, manage, track and report on progress and performance in their programs— and provides total transparency into that process.

ProjectManager is an award-winning project management tool that assists in organizing projects and programs with cloud-based features to make data-driven decisions. Here’s how it works.

1. Create Your Program

A program is made up of multiple projects. The first step in any project management program is to collect all related projects that work together as a program.

Import the projects in your program into our software from task lists, or use one of our industry-specific templates to create the project from scratch.

ProjectManager's program and project portfolio management view

2. Set High-Level View

Not all programs are the same. You need a tool that will adapt to your way of working and not make you fit into its rigid structure.

Customize your program to show the only data you need for your decision-making process. Status bars by each project show progress, cost/budget and more. Profile pictures or avatars for managers and teams allow for rapid insight on who is assigned to a certain project.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

3. Group & Filter Projects

Programs are groups of similar projects synergizing with each other in ways that enhance the overall value of each individual project. That doesn’t mean, however, that programs are singular in nature. In fact, organizations often have many to manage in their project portfolio.

Add projects to folders to create program groups. Title and filter these groups, then monitor their performance with our program dashboards that collect real-time data.

ProjectManager's portfolio roadmap, ideal for program management

4. Set up Notifications

Staying on top of progress and changes is key to reaching the program goals. Getting notifications in a timely manner ensures that they won’t get lost in the shuffle, and lets a program manager stay informed and in control.

Get updates both by email alerts and in-app notifications. Manage emails to alert you of comments, updates and more. The bell icon on our tool gathers your notifications in one place.

ProjectManager's real time notifications, a program management tool

5. Balance Resources

Keeping your resources matched to the capacity of your program is one way to maximize performance. That includes your team members!

Manage the resources in your programs from our color-coded Overview Workload page. See at a glance who on your team is overallocated, and balance their workload right from the page to boost productivity.

ProjectManager's workload management features help you keep track of your program tasks and who is overallocated in your team

6. Keep Track of Program

Programs are designed to help individual projects work together and achieve greater efficiency. Therefore, you need to see how all the projects in your program interact.

Use the Roadmap feature to view all the projects in your program on a single timeline. View the start and end dates for each to ensure there are no bottlenecks, and even drill down to the task level for each project.

ProjectManager's program management roadmap

7. Report to Stakeholders

Transparency is important when dealing with stakeholders. If they feel out of the loop, they’re going to interfere with the management of the program. ProjectManager helps you execute your communications plan.

Keep you stakeholders informed with one-click reports. You can filter the data to show just what they want about status, various and more, then share as a PDF or print out.

ProjectManager's project status report, a great program management tool

What’s the Difference Between a Program Manager and a Project Manager

Even though they’re both project management roles, they’re not interchangeable. As we’ve mentioned above, a program and a project are two completely different things, and that’s why the responsibilities of a program manager differ from those of a project manager.

A program management certificate differentiates program managers from project managers, project coordinators and project portfolio management professionals. For example, the project management institute (PMI) issues the Program Management Professional (PgMP) certification that’s exclusive for program managers.

Program Management Certification

The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers a Program Management Professional (PgMP) certification. To even qualify for this program, you have to have a secondary degree, plus 6,000 hours of project management experience and 10,500 hours of program management training. For program managers with a four-year degree, however, it only takes a little bit of program management experience plus 6,000 hours of project management experience.

Getting a program management certificate from the PMI shows that you’re serious about program management and that you not only have the experience needed to rise to the top of a resume pile but also have the actual program management training it takes to make projects successful on a company-wide level.

Program Manager vs Project Manager

The qualities of a great program manager include being more diplomatic and strategic than their project manager counterparts in an effort to manage stakeholders, project managers and team members with varying project goals. To achieve program goals, they have to interact with many cross functional teams, and align all their projects with the program plan.

This differs from a project manager in that project managers are required to be detail-oriented and great with numbers, with an eye for hyper-efficiency to keep individual projects on track, but are not necessarily expected to be diplomatic, and don’t need to communicate with as many people as program managers.

Additionally, program managers are big picture thinkers who must understand the strategic management thinking behind the development of a program plan. In other words, they must be able to align their programs with the strategic vision and strategic plans of their organizations. To do so, they have to begin by creating the program plan and program governance.

Once the planning is done they have to oversee execution, control the program and collaborate with project managers and stakeholders. On the flip side, project managers are not necessarily worried about big picture goals of their organization. Their only goal is to oversee the planning, scheduling and execution of their projects.

Unique challenges that many program managers face include:

  • Creating a program plan and project governance model to manage multiple projects at once
  • Keeping all project managers and projects aligned on the singular big picture business objectives
  • Managing stakeholders expectations and ensuring that all project members are on board
  • Verifying that all budgets and resources are available at multiple points throughout the program

Whereas project managers face the unique challenges of:

  • Managing the detailed elements of a single project
  • Tracking, quantifying and reporting on the specific ups and downs of their project status
  • Allocating resources, budget, dependencies, time and tasks—while mapping them out within a given project scope
  • Planning, budgeting, monitoring and reporting on the progress of their project

There are also portfolio managers, who are different from both project managers and program managers in that they deal with choosing, prioritizing and ensuring that all projects and programs make sense for the company’s objectives. Additionally, they are focused on getting the most value for the money it takes to roll out a project by using thorough research to identify the correct time and place for the rollout.

Program Management Industries and Roles

Since program managers are similar to change agents, there can be many roles to fulfill at one time, including planning coordinator and senior user. They need to have the people skills to be able to be an effective communicator and leader, but at the same time need the analytical skills to objectively view and report on their projects’ successes.

Many program managers are located in Silicon Valley, Washington D.C. and Chicago, IL as many program managers work in IT companies, the tech industry, construction management, the engineering industry and others.

How ProjectManager Helps with Program Management

ProjectManager has everything you need to manage projects, programs, stakeholders and team members. Our cloud-based tool gives you access to Gantt charts that let you create dependencies across tasks in different projects in your program.

You can also have automated reporting that lets you track portfolio status, project status, workload and more. Our workload features even allow you to track how your team is being best utilized within the different projects in your program.

Program management is a deeply involved, high-level practice that includes one individual or a team of program managers overseeing multiple projects. Without proper tools in place to manage all of the projects and portfolios at once, important tasks can slip through the cracks. Start a free 30-day trial of ProjectManager today and get award-winning program management tools to make your life easier.

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