What is Program Management?

Thaisa Fernandes
Aug 6 · 4 min read

I have been working as a Program Manager for many years. I keep hearing people wanting to know or getting confused about the term Program Management and the similarities with other professions like Product and Project Management. As an attempt to add more color to it, I’ll dedicate this post to my profession Program Management and what it means to be a Program Manager, aka PgM.

When I describe my work as a Program Manager, I say what I do is unite teams and help them achieve the expected result. Many times I don’t have the answers we need, but I work with the team so that we can achieve our goals. I focus on solving problems, bringing teams together, and helping everyone to work collaboratively as part of a cross-functional team.

First Things First

Never assume that a Product or Project Manager can take on the Program Management role and responsibilities. Each role has distinct priorities and requires different skills. The Project, Product, and Program Management roles are different and must be performed by people with the right skills and experience to perform their responsibilities.

Program Definition

Programs are strategic in nature, so the person working with Program Management deals with business and operations. The program manager leads the program’s strategy and objectives, and assesses the impact on the business. It goes beyond completing your projects to executing long-term programs, it includes influencing many different projects.

Programs cover several projects that are interlinked and that are part of the long-term business objectives. Programs are susceptible to changes in market and business objectives since they translate strategic objectives into measurable business goals. The result of a program can be a benefit, a goal, or a new process.

Responsibilities

  • Implement strategies and measure success.
  • Oversee projects that will help achieve program goals.
  • Align with long-term business goals.

What is a project?

Projects are temporary undertakings that have a beginning, middle and end, as well as a defined scope and resources. If the project isn’t unique, maybe it’s actually an operation. According to the Project Management Institute, a project has five phases: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closing. If you prefer Agile methodologies and frameworks, in Scrum, you will have the Sprint that will last up to four weeks, and include the Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective.

And what is a product?

A Product is anything that can be offered on the market to solve a problem or satisfy a need. It can never be considered complete, because its users will always be evolving; and therefore, their needs will also change over time. During the lifecycle of a product, multiple projects can take place.

Differences between Product and Project Management

  • Influences a group of projects in an interconnected way.
  • The result can be a benefit, a goal, or a new process.
  • Always long term, and the risk is influenced by external factors.
  • Multiplicity of stakeholders interacting with the program.
  • Focus on maximizing benefits for the organization.
  • Aligns the delivery value with the organization’s operational and strategic objectives.

Similarities between Product and Project Management, both

  • Work with cross-functional teams.
  • Require organizational, communication, and time management skills.
  • Employ problem-solving and negotiation skills.
  • Make use of natural leadership.
  • Take a strategic approach.
  • Need flexibility.

Recap

Program Manager

Offers sustainable business benefits.

Product Manager

Plays a strategic role in defining the overall direction of the product.

Project Manager

Manages scope and is responsible for project delivery, budget, resource allocation, and quality.

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