Program manager vs. project manager

Program manager vs. project manager — to understand how these two similar roles differ, you must first know the difference between programs and projects.

When a large project is made up of several other projects that are dependent on each other, it becomes something bigger — a program. Programs can become overwhelming and stressful for one person to manage, so delegating individual projects is often recommended. Outlining objectives, planning execution, managing operations, and reporting on status are just a few of the functions involved in carrying out a successful program.

Projects are temporary undertakings that generally come with cost, date, and resource constraints. Meanwhile, programs are made up of several underlying projects. Programs normally focus on meeting one overarching goal and business objective. For example, a program to rollout a new marketing campaign is comprised of several different projects, including generating content, media, promotions, and all the necessary assets to carry out that campaign. This is an example of a situation where both a program and project manager come in.

But, what are the responsibilities of the different roles?

What is a Program Manager?

A program manager can be seen as the visionary leader for the overall program. They articulate the goals and objectives of the program and how it will impact the business. Their role is to map out and define the list of dependent projects that need to be completed to reach the overall goal. When it comes to the program, they focus on strategy and implementation, and how to delegate the projects appropriately.

An example: if the program is a marketing campaign, some possible goals the program manager might define include lead generation, raising brand awareness, and expanding the target market. The program manager’s role extends beyond the completion of individual projects and looks at the long term benefits of the whole program.

What is a Project Manager?

The project manager manages the operations of an individual project within the program. He or she coordinates time, budget, and resources and delegates tasks across the team. The project manager reports to the program manager on progress and changes made to the initial project plan. The role of the project manager is more tactical than the program manager: they mainly focus on the operational elements of the project such as meeting deadlines, staying within budget, and completing deliverables. In general, the project manager’s role is complete once the project is complete, although it is helpful to go back through the processes to review what worked and what didn’t.

Program Managers vs. Project Managers

If you’re preparing for one of these roles, it’s vital to your job success and proper delegation to understand the specific responsibilities of program managers vs. project managers. And as a team member, knowing the difference between the two will help when you’re seeking information on a program or project.