What is Program Management?

Program management is the process of managing several projects and programs simultaneously to streamline organization and productivity. By prioritizing resources across projects, proper program management works to make all projects more efficient for long-term stability.

Program management also addresses risk management, quality control, managing stakeholder communications and reporting. It is a process that helps make projects successful and involves many management decisions at every stage.

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.com’s online suite of program management tools, you can make the right decisions for you and your organization. Try a 30-day trial and get started today.

Overview of projects with progress, cost/budget, managers and members listed

Program Management Key Terms

Program management differs from project management, in that the former is more strategic and the latter focused on timely quality deliverables. However, 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.

  • 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 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, 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 Mitigation: 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.
  • Organizational Breakdown Structure: Defines the organization in hierarchical order to help strategize how the synergy of the program can best benefit the organization.
  • 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. This goal is dependent on proper planning, just as in the management of any single project. The difference, though, is that program management tends to be an ongoing activity.

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 budgets for each program
  • Managing both resources and communications across all projects with their stakeholders
  • Ensuring that project deliverables match with the overall business objectives
  • 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

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


Program planning is where program management starts, and ensuring that your program is properly planned is of utmost importance. Having a well-thought-out 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 plan breaks down the larger chunks of work into smaller, more manageable bits.

A screenshot of the Gantt Chart in ProjectManager.com
Plans are often made and executed with Gantt charts – ProjectManager.com’s Gantt charts have the ability to track all the projects in your program.


Programs cost money to run, and how much of a financial commitment the program will require must be estimated upfront. Therefore, once a basic 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.

A screenshot of the dashboard in ProjectManager.com
Keep track of costs and overall performance for every project in your program with ProjectManager.com’s dashboards.


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 progress. With a Gantt, program managers can break down their programs into phases, and can drill into their constituent projects down to the task level.


Projects always change, so it stands to reason that programs that hold those projects must change as well. Program managers must have 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.

What Is Program Management Software?

Program management software allows managers to plan, organize and manage their resources across an array of projects. It’s designed to control the scheduling of multiple projects and their related costs, budget, resource allocation and more.

Project management training video (1c8qc9sqjb)

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.

Desktop vs. Online Program Management Software

If you’re in the market for program management software, one of the first choices you have to make is whether to get a desktop application or online, cloud-based software. It’s best to get a full picture before making a commitment.

Desktop Program Management Software

Desktop applications require installation. You buy or license the application, then download it on to your computer’s hard drive. Everything is stored on the computer—or an external drive. This creates a silo for your tool and your data, which can make it harder to hack into and easier to secure your business information.

Desktop applications are often purchased once, and that includes added fees for updates and additional licenses.

Online Program Management Software

Because online program management software is accessed through the internet, wherever there is connectivity, you can access your program, attached files and collaborate with your team. This means you can access it both in the office or on-site, and is especially helpful for teams that are working remotely.

Online tools tend to have a subscription model that offers varying price tiers for entry. They also don’t require expensive computers, but only a web browser to run.

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:

  • Collect projects into program groups
  • Facilitate resources throughout program
  • Gather program details in one-click reports
  • Live data to make better decisions
  • Display live metrics on program 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 project. Program software can also use a Gantt as a program roadmap that shows all the projects in your program on one timeline to highlight key metrics.

A screenshot of the gantt chart in ProjectManager.com

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.

A screenshot of the dashboard in ProjectManager.com

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.

A screenshot of the costs column in ProjectManager.com’s gantt charts

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.

A screenshot of the Timesheet generator in ProjectManager.com

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.

A screenshot of the team management page in ProjectManager.com

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.

A screenshot of the Kanban board in ProjectManager.com

Managing Programs With ProjectManager.com

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 your program— and provides total transparency into that process.

ProjectManager.com is an award-winning 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 program management 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.

Import all your projects from Microsoft Project, Excel or any CSV file

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. 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.

See every project in a list with mini-dashboards to track progress

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, program managers often have many to manage.

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.

Filter projects by whether they’re not started, open, on hold, closed and more

4. Set up Notifications

Staying on top of progress and changes is key to managing a program. 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.

In-app notifications keep you always updated

5. Balance Resources

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

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.

Workload page keeps track of your team’s tasks and who is overallocated

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.

Roadmap view captures all the projects in your program on one timeline

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.

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.

Status report gives you insights into the project

Program Manager vs Project Manager

The qualities of a great program manager include being more diplomatic and charismatic than their project manager counterparts in an effort to manage stakeholders, project managers and team members with varying project goals.

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 projects on track, but are not necessarily expected to be diplomatic.

Additionally, program managers are big picture thinkers, always considering the ultimate business objectives across all projects, ensuring that none of their programs fall out of line. On the flip side, project managers are not necessarily worried about big picture goals.

Unique challenges that many program managers face include:

  • Managing 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 project

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 Certification

The Project Management Institute 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 experience. 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.

But there are many reasons to get your PgMP certification. Getting certified 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 knowledge and skills it takes to make projects successful on a company-wide level.

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, the engineering industry and others.

How ProjectManager.com Helps with Program Management

ProjectManager.com 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.com today and get award-winning program management tools to make your life easier.

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