Program Manager vs Project Manager, How they’re Different?

I only have been working in an agile environment for under three years as a DevOps engineer and not directly involved in project management. Still, even with that, I feel both program manager and project manager roles are being confused between the two.

Going word-by-word, they have the same managerial task and different on the word “program” versus “project”, so let’s get into it first.

As defined in PMBOK® Guide—Fourth edition (PMI, 2008a, p. 434), “Projects are temporary endeavors undertaken to create a unique project service or result”. On the other hand, programs are groups of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from working them individually.

What is a program manager?

Program managers are responsible for the end-to-end project’s end-to-end scope, from managing stakeholders’ expectations to ensuring all deliverables have been produced on time. They need people skills to communicate with different departments, make decisions about delivery dates, and coordinate. This is important as the first step to know about program manager vs project manager.

This is done from a broad, helicopter view.

What are the typical duties of a program manager?

Program managers are responsible for the application, or implementation, of the program itself, mens they carry the company’s missions and goals. This also means that they need to not only oversee day-to-day operations of the program but also make sure its resources (staff) and budget is being responsibly spent. They may deal with new program initiatives, external stakeholders, public relations campaigns and updates on the execution status of current programs as well as developing future initiatives.

How does a program manager differ from a project manager?

Project managers work with many stakeholders to create and execute projects, they coordinate the efforts of project teams, including development, quality assurance, product management, and more. They work from project to project and reporting to program managers.

Both are juggling with time and people as resources, only from a different scope.

Program managers have goals, and project managers have deadlines to deliver.

This table may help you differentiate:

 Program ManagerProject Manager
ScopeMultiple projectsSingle project
GoalsLong termShort term (per project)
ResponsibilityDelivering company goalDelivering project on time
DescriptionStrategicTactical
Reporting toVP, COO, or CEOProgram Manager or Division Manager
PM vs PM

In conclusion, the main difference on program manager vs project manager is that the PM can manage multiple projects while the PM manages one project at a time.

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