Program Management - Definition and Meaning

Program Management is the discipline of managing programs of work, using defined tools and techniques, implemented by skilled program management
Program Management is a recognised discipline supported by a body of knowledge, qualifications and professional career structures.

What is a program?

Programs of projects are designed to deliver a vision rather than specific outputs; they are more complex and involve managing change in a dynamic environment with no defined path. Get a Vision Statement Template

Programs extend further than the project lifecycle to include benefits realisation. Benefits may be realised during and after the program and require active management by the program.

Additionally the program lifecycle includes transition management and the maintenance of business as usual. Programs are only closed once the outcomes are achieved and the benefits are self-sustaining. Figure 3 illustrates the differences.

The Program Management Lifecycle

Program Management lifecycle
A program can be defined as "a portfolio of projects that are selected or commissioned, planned and managed in a co-ordinated way and which together achieve a set of defined business objectives." MSP, 2003, p5

How are Projects different from Programs?

Projects are characterised by shorter timescales, a defined beginning and end, and a clear definition of the outputs that the project will deliver. Projects are suitable for the delivery of small changes with clear deliverables and a small impact on the organization in terms of changes to processes, procedures, organization or culture. For example the refurbishment of an existing office to accommodate an expanding, but already existing team, with a clear timescale and a clear brief.
A project can be defined as "a management environment that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to a specified Business Case." (PRINCE2, 2002, p7)

When should projects be grouped under a program?

The following factors may influence a decision to manage projects under a program:
  • efficiency savings through the central management of resources, components or suppliers,
  • very large projects that will have a single end product, but are reliant on the successful delivery of many smaller projects for example the building of the new Wembley stadium,
  • and a strategy or initiative that will involve physical products, but also less tangible outputs like changed processes, attitudes or information flows. Here success means the delivery of products, but also the successful integration of those projects and the realisation of the benefits arising from the new capabilities.

Program Management - references

Office of Government Commerce (2002), Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2, London: TSO

Office of Government Commerce (2007), Managing Successful Programmes, London: TSO

Further reading on Program Management

Program Highlight Report

What is Programme Management?