Working within change management I am in constant conversations around project vs programme management, be it from a client or candidate perspective and am frequently bemused with the grey area between these two titles. There are of course differences in meaning, one just has to read the ‘APM’ or “PMBOK” definitions to find these, however this does not become so apparent in practice. In particular the difference between best practice and a growing need for delivery and an understanding at senior levels often lending to further confusion.
So what’s the difference?
It is not my intention to question the different definitions of the two (there are plenty of sources that do), so for the sake of these thoughts I am using generally accepted definitions.
Project management by its very name suggests temporary undertakings with a specific purpose to create a product or service. This has a defined start and end with finite objectives that in achieving signify completion. Through the process of delivery a project management team would be monitoring the time, cost, quality triangle through to review on completion.
Programme management is compromised of a number of projects, which are often parts of wider, ongoing organisational objectives. This requires the management of a number of projects in a coordinated manner to realise benefits that would not otherwise be obtained through independent project management. Often programmes of work do not have a pre-determined end point.
So far this seems logical, programme management is the management of outcomes to deliver benefits in a wider macro environment, project management is the management of specific activities to deliver specific outputs.
So Project Managers can be Programme Managers?
One could be forgiven for seeing a natural progression from project manager to programme manager right? This is certainly a common trend from my perspective however certain skills become more prevalent.
Broadly there is a large overlap in skill sets, however one key differentiation I tend to see is in commercial awareness. Programme managers tend to be required to have greater skills in financial management, stakeholder management, emotional intelligence and man management. This expertise and focus seems to stem from a need to act as a business manager, ensuring wider benefits are realised separate from the objectives of individual projects. This often manifests itself with some very able programme managers coming from non-project management backgrounds.
There is hope for me yet?
Well yes and no… this of course relies on the individual and the role. It is important to note that just because someone is a competent project manager does not naturally mean they will be a successful programme manager and visa versa.
One key problem falls on terminology with stakeholders/leadership insisting on interchanging the titles, which can result in something being called a programme and being managed as a project.
Reading around industry sites and articles there are clearly a number of different views on project and programme management with the argument often coming down to selective use of examples, size of deliverables, stakeholder’s preferences or unclear use of labelling. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the differentiation and how you developed your approach to project/programme management. Please contact me by clicking here.