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Project or Program Management? What’s the difference?

No one can whistle a symphony, it takes a whole orchestra to play it. – H.E. Luccock
Project or Program Management? What’s the difference?

What exactly does that have to do with project management? And importantly, what does it have to do with program management?

Imagine this if you will: a project manager can whistle a tune, but the program manager brings together the sum of parts to create an ensemble - the orchestra.

How is program management different to project management? In the simplest terms, a project manger’s job is to focus on an outcome i.e. complete a specific scope within time, cost and quality parameters. A program manger’s job is to step outside of the individual projects to manage several interconnected projects that build together and contribute to a larger business goal, for example re-branding a retail network.

But that is not all. Program managers can and should take a holistic view to find efficiencies in the delivery of individual projects so that individual projects can benefit from their interconnectedness i.e. through efficient delivery or lower cost. Program managers also importantly guide the strategy for rolling out projects in “tranches” or “phases” to achieve business outcomes beyond the individual projects themselves.

Let’s take an example. Suppose an organisation has several building assets and has identified one that is bringing down the average water efficiency rating of the portfolio. The organisation may embark on a project to upgrade the asset - enter a brilliant project manager – they will find the best strategy to achieve the project outcome for the organisation, no matter how complex or challenging the brief may be.

But what if the organisation realises that even after upgrading the one asset, it still does not achieve its overall target for efficiency?

Individually, the assets appear fine albeit requiring some form of review or upgrade. These can be done on an individual project by project basis, but the most effective and efficient way of reviewing, scoping and delivering the wider organisational water efficiency target would be better guided by a program manager.

The strategic approach to reviewing large scale, often geographically dispersed assets, can create value above and beyond individual standalone projects. By adopting a strategic program approach, the organisation benefits from not only the improved efficiency of the individual assets but will also have a blueprint for how to tackle similar challenges in the future. Music to your ears?

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