Program Management Guide (2023)

What Is a Program in Project Management?

A program is a cluster of related projects that are managed in a coordinated manner, so they can be executed simultaneously and share resources, activities and stakeholders.

What Is Program Management?

Program management is a strategic management approach to executing and controlling multiple related projects. The goal of program management is to drive benefits to the entire program by sharing project resources, costs and activities.

Managing related projects simultaneously creates opportunity for synergies that would be elusive if one was to manage each project separately. This requires more complex management than guiding an individual project, as the focus of program management is broader.

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’s online suite of program management tools, you can make the right decisions for you and your organization.

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With the help of these software tools, program managers group similar projects together into a program. Then, they use various techniques, knowledge and skills to manage them together for the greatest return on investment.

Program Management vs Project Management

Program management, or programme management, deals with a group of related projects, while project management only involves one project. Programs tend to be larger, more general and the driving strategy is long-term.

Programs are created from a business high-level view, while projects are much more specific. A program plan is meant to achieve strategic goals and business objectives of organizations. They have flexible deadlines and seek long-term benefits. On the contrary, projects have strict deadlines and seek quality control, timeliness and cost effectiveness to produce deliverables.

The major difference between program management and project management is that the scope of a program is much broader and more adjustable, while a project is defined by its deliverables. Programs are a persistent exercise, while projects have defined start and end dates, which are specified in the project plan.

Achieving the strategic plan and strategic vision of an organization usually requires long-term programs that consist of various individual projects. The program governance and program management plan define how those projects will be executed. Large organizations usually need to execute several programs at a time, which are part of their project portfolio.

Program Management vs Project Portfolio Management

Program management is not the same as project portfolio management. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project portfolio as “projects, programs, subsidiary portfolios, and operations managed as a group” in its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) book. So, in simple terms, a project portfolio is the larger group of projects and programs that an organization is executing at some point.

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What Is a Program Manager?

The program manager role generally requires an individual with a program management certification. A program manager is responsible for overseeing the life cycle of a program by working with different teams, project managers, portfolio managers and stakeholders.

What Does a Program Manager Do?

A program manager is a Program Management Professional (PgMP) that specializes in the strategic management of a group of related projects and attempts to create efficiencies and achieve the strategic goals and objectives of the organization they work for.

Program managers will work across multiple projects to build on interdependencies, direct the project managers who manage the individual projects in the program and facilitate communication between cross-functional teams.

Program Manager Responsibilities

Among other duties, the main responsibilities of a program manager are risk management, quality control, change management, managing stakeholder communications and reporting. Program managers also have to collaborate with portfolio managers to make sure that their program plan aligns with their organization’s program portfolio management plan.

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

Program Planning

Program planning is where program management starts, and ensuring that your program is plan is built properly is of utmost importance. Having a well-thought-out program management 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 management plan breaks down the larger chunks of work into smaller, more manageable bits. A program work breakdown structure allows program managers to do just that.

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Cost Control

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

Program Management

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 program success. With a Gantt, program managers can break down their programs into phases, and can drill into their constituent projects down to the task level. These program management tools allow program managers to use real-time data as an input for their decision-making process, which is a program management best practice.

Change Management

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

Program Management Key Terms

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.

  • Program: In project management, a program is a group of several projects that must be executed simultaneously to get benefits and achieve program goals that wouldn’t be obtained by managing them individually.
  • Program Management: Is the application of program management skills, techniques and tools to plan, execute and control programs. It’s also called programme management.
  • Program Management Office: Similar to a project management office, the program management office helps members across organizations to get involved in the execution of programs.
  • 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 Governance: Refers to all the different actions that are taken to monitor and control the success of a program at every stage of its life cycle, such as meetings, reporting, risk management, change management among other elements of governance.
  • Program Plan: A program plan is the set of documents that are developed to guide the program execution and monitoring. It’s also known as the program management plan.
  • Program Management Framework: Encompasses every component, participant, process, tool and methodology required for a program.
  • Program Portfolio:Is a group of programs and related activities that can be executed collectively to meet strategic goals and business objectives. Program portfolio management refers to the actions taken by management to successfully handle program portfolios.
  • 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, program management plan, program governance, 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 Management: 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.
  • Program Work Breakdown Structure: Defines the work and results necessary to complete the program. It differs from a project work breakdown structure because it’s produced from a broader, program-level perspective.
  • 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 and achieve program goals that require said projects to be executed simultaneously. The program management process is dependent on proper planning, just as in the management of any individual project. The difference, though, is that program management tends to be an ongoing activity in most organizations.

Program management, then, is a process that focuses on the macro over the micro, which includes:

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  • Checking in on programs and performing daily management activities
  • Overseeing the development and implementation of the program management plan, program governance and budgets for each program
  • Managing both resources and communications across all projects with their stakeholders
  • Ensuring that project deliverables from projects within the program plan match with the overall program goals
  • 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

What Is Program Management Software?

Program management software is the most valuable asset of a program management office. It allows managers to plan, organize and manage their resources across an array of projects and set up an appropriate program governance. It’s designed to control the scheduling of multiple projects and their related costs, budget, resource allocation and more.

Program Management Guide (4)

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. Microsoft Project is one of the most commonly used project management software, but it has major drawbacks that make ProjectManager a better choice for program management.

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:

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  • Facilitate the project planning process
  • Collect projects into program governance groups
  • Facilitate resources throughout program
  • Gather program details in one-click reports
  • Live data to make better decisions
  • Display live metrics on program management dashboard
  • See and balance your team’s workload from same page


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