Project Management Guide
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What Is a Program in Project Management?

A program is a collection of projects that are managed as a group to achieve efficiencies of scale. Just as project management involves the coordination of individual tasks, program management is the coordination of related projects that are grouped together. 

Projects are bundled together into a program when the benefits of managing the collection outweigh the benefits of managing them as individual units. A related concept here is project portfolio management, a method for organizations to manage and evaluate a large number of projects by grouping them into strategic portfolios. Portfolios are then analyzed for overall effectiveness, how their estimates compare with actual costs, and whether they align with the larger, strategic objectives of the organization. 

So what is a program in project management? Simply put, it is a group of related projects managed as a whole unit.

Characteristics of programs in project management

The main characteristics of a program in project management are:

  • Large: Programs deal with big, overall company goals rather than smaller targets and deliverables
  • General: A project management program is general in its approach — the specific details are outlined in the projects, tasks, and subtasks
  • Strategic: Programs focus on long-term objectives and the multilayered plans to achieve them

Examples of programs in project management

  • Visionary: One example of a project management program could be the decision to make a multinational business entirely eco-friendly. This long-term goal would incorporate many shorter-term projects, including issuing new company guidelines, the rollout of updates across the various offices, and a marketing campaign to advertise the new principles. 
  • Mandatory: Another example of a program in project management could be a merchant’s transition to an entirely electronic payment system. In Sweden, for example, the goal is to become a cashless society by 2023. This means many retail organizations have already undertaken smaller projects that contribute to the greater program goal of digital transformation.
  • Emerging: Finally, a project management program could start as a small project but turn into a larger initiative. Various company projects could be dispersed or even duplicated, so establishing a program will enable managers to bring them all under one structure. 

Who manages programs in project management?

A program manager’s role is to coordinate all projects within a program to align with the strategies and long-term objectives of an organization. They oversee programs and assess deliverables to ensure that every project goal is reached. 

Program managers are not to be confused with project managers, who focus on the individual, short-term deliverables of specific projects.

What are the benefits of programs in project management?

A successful project management program can be invaluable to a business. The benefits include:

  • Clarity: A program aligns multiple projects together towards one shared goal. This means project managers are clear on their individual deliverables and can plan their activities according to the program’s strategic objectives.
  • Efficiency: In the program management process, a collection of projects is housed in one place. Program managers can use project management software to oversee progress for all projects at a glance and prioritize resources accordingly.
  • Risk management: By enabling project managers to communicate pain points as they arise, a set of best practices can be established to identify similar risks early and avoid repeating mistakes.

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