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Projects vs Programs

January 23, 2019

Now that I’m a program manager the developers will have to talk to me.

You don’t understand developers. . .or program management.

While both have the abreviation of PM, the difference between program and project managers is stark.

Projects have a start and and end date. They have a feature set, a schedule and typically a budget. Projects are run by project managers. When they complete one they move on to the next. Although, most project managers run multiple projects at the same time.

Programs are different than projects. Of course, we know that programs are also applications like Microsoft Office, or Fortnite, or the Uber app. But, while program managers often have software applications that they are responsible for, their “programs” are much bigger than that.

Programs can be entire suites of applications. For example, there is a program manager over the Microsoft Office suite. There are also program managers for each part of the suite. Program managers can also be responsible for entire processes. The main distinction for a program is that unlike a project, it has no end.

A program manager I knew at Microsoft described the role this way:

Program Management is what is left in the pie tin after you take out all the other pieces.

It’s the glue that holds stuff together. Program managers depend on project managers to get stuff done.

I’ve been both. Understanding the role is the first step to being successful.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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