Our young candidates sometimes ask what is the difference between program manager and project manager. We liked the comparison that Coursera offers when saying “…think of a program manager as a movie director and of a project manager as a crew director, carrying out myriad of tasks”.
… And this is right.
In the world of software engineering, managing complex projects and programs requires specialized skills and expertise.
Two key roles that are often encountered in this field are Project Manager (PM) and Program Manager (PgM). While these roles may seem similar at first glance, they have distinct differences in their scope of work, responsibilities and focus.
Let’s take them systematically, as an engineer mind would like to see them .
From the scope of work perspective, a project manager is responsible for overseeing individual projects from initiation to completion.
Project managers are accountable for delivering specific outcomes within a defined timeframe and with allocated resources. Project Managers focus on the tactical aspects of project execution, such as creating project plans, defining tasks, assigning resources, monitoring progress and managing risks and issues.
On the other hand, a program manager has a broader scope of work.
Program managers oversee a portfolio of related projects, typically with strategic and organizational significance. Theyfocus on aligning projects with business goals, coordinating efforts among various project teams and ensuring that the program objectives are met.
Important to highlight is that program managers are responsible for strategic planning, defining program goals, establishing governance, managing interdependencies among projects and driving overall program success.
From the perspective of responsibilities that these two functions need to accomplish, while both project managers and program managers are responsible for managing projects, their specific responsibilities differ. A summary of these differences could look like:
Project Managers: they are responsible for defining project scope, objectives and deliverables, creating and maintaining project schedules, managing resources, monitoring and controlling project risks and ensuring that the project is completed within the defined time, budget and quality parameters.
Program Managers: they are responsible for defining program goals and objectives, developing program strategies, overseeing project selection and prioritization, establishing program governance, coordinating project teams, managing program risks and issues and providing program-level reporting and communication to stakeholders.
Last but not least, a PM’s focus perspective differs than a PgM’s focus as highlighted by these details:
Project Managers: they focus on the details of individual projects and are primarily concerned with achieving project-specific goals and deliverables.
They work closely with project teams to ensure that project tasks are completed on time, within budget, and to the required quality standards.
Program Managers: they have a more strategic focus and are concerned with aligning projects with broader business objectives.
They work closely with senior management and stakeholders to ensure that projects are contributing to the overall program goals and that they are delivering the desired business value.
Understanding these differences between PM and PgM is essential for organizations to effectively utilize these roles and ensure successful delivery of software engineering projects and programs.