program manager vs project manager

Program Manager vs Project Manager: Who is Who

There’s a growing demand for both program and project managers. Burning Glass Technologies have reported that program management jobs are expected to grow by 8% in the next decade. The Project Management Institute (PMI), in turn, found that project-oriented jobs are expected to grow by 33% from 2017 to 2027. 

However, when the terms project manager and program manager are thrown around, it can be easy to get confused about what their exact roles are in an organization. After all, both are responsible for making sure a project gets done effectively and on time, right? 

To understand the finer details of program vs project manager’s responsibilities, we’ve looked into two roles and explained the similarities and differences.

Defining projects and programs 

Before we jump to the difference between program and project managers, let’s define a program and a project first.

A program is a collection of related projects that are managed as a single entity. Programs often have multiple phases and can be extended over time. A program is undertaken to achieve strategic goals, such as meeting key objectives or improving organizational performance, while the individual projects within the program are undertaken in order to meet specific objectives.

Projects are typically one-time endeavors, but they may also be recurring activities that require planning and tracking over time. Projects generally have specific goals and deliverables that must be met by a certain date or during a defined window of time. Projects also tend to have finite durations, although they may be extended if circumstances warrant it.

Now that we can define programs and projects, it’s easier to grasp the responsibilities of program and project managers. 

What is a program manager?

A program manager’s role involves overseeing the execution of a program, that is multiple projects, as this position requires orchestrating  being completed at once. Program managers may also be responsible for ensuring that all tasks are completed on time and within budget.

A program manager’s role

The job description for a program manager varies by industry and company but typically includes some of the following duties:

  • conducts research to identify potential problems and opportunities related to proposed programs
  • interviews clients to determine requirements for new programs
  • prepares feasibility studies for proposed programs
  • analyzes data to calculate costs, profits, revenues and other financial factors used in deciding whether certain programs should be started or continued
  • develops budgets for proposed programs
  • prepares reports on activities of each phase of work involved in planning or executing programs
  • coordinates efforts of individuals or departments involved in implementing programs 
  • recommends new procedures or methods for accomplishing work more efficiently 
  • makes recommendations concerning purchase or replacement of equipment needed in performing duties assigned

Program managers generally have several years of experience in project management, so they know how to plan, manage, and lead teams through different stages of the project lifecycle. 

Note: If you want to become a program manager, you need experience in managing multiple projects at once.

New to multi-project management? Continue reading: How Many Projects Is Too Many? 

What is a project manager?

Project managers, on the other hand, have a narrower scope of responsibility that involves overseeing specific tasks within the project that require the coordination of multiple people and resources. In practice, their job is to ensure that all tasks are completed on time and within budget, while maintaining high-quality results.

The primary responsibility of a project manager is to lead, direct, and coordinate all aspects of an assigned project from beginning to end. They may also plan, organize and direct the resources needed for the successful completion of a project or initiative. The role requires a broad range of skills including organizational abilities, technical knowledge, leadership skills, communication skills and analytical abilities.

Project managers typically have three main areas of focus: planning and organizing; execution; control/evaluation/reporting. Planning includes developing schedules at both high-level (overall) and detailed levels; preparing budgets; selecting resources; managing risks; creating timelines; developing resource plans (work breakdown structures); establishing resource allocation models or matrices (work packages); estimating costs.

Essentially, a good project manager is organized, flexible, and creative enough to cope with whatever comes up during a project – whether it’s an unexpected change in direction or a team member who doesn’t turn up on time!

On your way to becoming a project manager? Read next:

Program manager vs. project manager: Know the difference

The key difference between a program manager and a project manager is that the former 

manages multiple projects at once, whereas the latter only manages one project at a time.

The project manager’s role is to deliver a product or service, but the program manager has a wider view and must consider the needs of all stakeholders.

This infographic summarises the differences between project and program managers: 

Program ManagerProject Manager
Performs a strategic rolePerforms a tactical role
Supervises a group of dependent projectsManages an individual project
Sets to improve organizational performanceAims to deliver the project on time and on budget
Stays with the same program for yearsMoves from project to project
Measured by ROIMeasured by delivering on time and on budget

The similarities between project and program managers

Project managers and program managers are similar in their focus on the successful completion of projects. Both program managers and project managers:

  • Have to ensure that all work is completed by deadlines.
  • Have to ensure that all work is completed within budget and according to specifications.
  • Make sure that team members have what they need to do their jobs properly.
  • Monitor progress toward goals on a regular basis so that problems can be identified early on before they become major issues.

Is a program manager more senior than a project manager?‎

Program managers are typically more senior than project managers because they have more experience and are often in charge of an entire set of projects. Their scope of responsibilities is broader. 

What is the salary of project managers and program managers?

The average salary for both project managers and program managers is about $75,000 to $90,000. Because program managers often have more experience than project managers, the compensation may be higher.

However, it’s important to note that there are many factors that can impact your salary as a project manager or program manager. For example:

* Your location

* The industry you work in (for example, technology vs retail)

* Your years of experience

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember when deciding between becoming a program manager or project manager, is what kind of work you would personally prefer to do. Both positions are vital to the operation of any organization, and both have their own unique challenges, upsides, and downfalls. The best way to make an informed choice is to try each role out for yourself and see which one feels right for you.

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