Program Manager vs. Project Manager: What’s The Difference?

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While the tools may be similar, the roles of a program manager and a project manager are different. Jennifer Bridges, PMP, explains the difference in this video.

Related: How Program Managers Use Software to Manage Project Portfolios

difference between program managers and project managers explained

The Difference Between a Program Manager and a Project Manager

A program manager manages multiple projects, and sometimes multiple programs while a project manager manages the teams responsible for fulfilling the project and achieving its deliverables.

Generally speaking, a program manager has broader responsibilities than the project manager. Therefore, the tools they use are focused on either the macro, for the program manager, or the micro, for the project manager.

Here’s a breakdown of the roles.

Project Manager Responsibilities:

  • Managing the project, including project scope, schedule and resources
  • Assembling and managing the project team and their performance
  • Delivering successful project outcomes (ensuring it is on time and under budget)software for managing projects and programs

Program Manager Responsibilities:

The two roles often differ in their views both in what they see on their dashboards and in the abstract, too. Program managers are more strategic in their thinking and deliverables, while the project manager is often working on day-to-day task management on a more cellular level.

Pro-Tip: Though not a program manager, the project manager has a lot to do with what’s happening on the program, such as delivering the project on time and within the allotted budget. Therefore, it’s important not only to know the differences between the two roles, but where they overlap.

Take it further: Read Jason Westland’s article: The Difference between a Project and a Program.

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Video Transcription

Today, we’re talking about the difference between a Program Manager and a Project Manager. So even though some of the tools and techniques may be similar, their roles are different. So let’s start by taking a look at the Program Manager role for an organization.

So a Program Manager is responsible for managing multiple projects and, in some instances, multiple programs. They also interact with multiple project teams, but they don’t necessarily manage those project teams, the Project Manager does.

They’re responsible for the program outcomes, so their focus is on the broader view of what’s happening in that program. If you look at their dashboards, they’re looking at what’s happening within each of these projects that make up the program that may impact the program being on time or returning the ROI.

So if you look at a graphical depiction of a program, again, it’s made up of multiple projects that are related to that program. And ideally, in the organization, a Project Manager manages each one of these projects and reports into the Program Manager.

So if you look at the project life cycle for a program, the Program Manager’s responsible more for the people, navigating any politics, and negotiating, maybe, between different organizations, different projects that are interacting among this program.

They deal more with strategic tasks, so they’re working with the organization to align the program to the business strategy and the strategic goals of the organization. They also deal with the business strategies and, again, they’re responsible for ensuring that that program delivers the ROI, or the return on investment.

Separately, the Project Manager has a different view. They’re responsible for a specific project, and the project team members and what’s happening, and whether they’re delivering on the activities they’re responsible for.

They’re also responsible for the project outcome, so they have a deeper focus on what’s happening on the individual project that they’re managing. So a Project Manager typically manages one or multiple projects. Their focus in the project life cycle has to deal with the scope, schedule, and resources for that project.

They perform more technical tasks for the project, and they deal with project requirements. They are the ones who are responsible for delivering that project on time and within budget for the organization. So as you can see, the Project Manager has a lot to do with what’s happening in the program.

So if you need a tool that can help you manage your project or your program, then sign up for our software now at ProjectManager.com.

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