Understanding Programs and Projects
- Oh, there's a difference! -
First Law of Program Management:
There are only two phases to a big program: Too early to tell and too
late to stop!
by Mr. Blaise Durante,
Deputy Assistant Secretary (Acquisition Integration) U.S. Airforce
Projects, Programs, Complexity, Communications, Stakeholders.
Understanding Programs and Projects
challenge facing organisations is to know the difference between a
major project and a program and then apply the optimum management
approach. In both situations an appreciation of the ideas contained in
‘Complexity Theory’ and CRPR in particular will add
a depth of understanding to a complicated situation.
and Programs are different! Unfortunately, this
difference has been ignored or confused by many people for too long.
Project management is focused on the efficient creation of
managers should be seeking to minimise
‘unnecessary’ change to create
their specified deliverable as efficiently as possible.
Program management focuses on the coordination of a number of related
projects over time to deliver benefits to the organisation; program
managers should be actively seeking to adapt future effort to maximise
benefits as the situation unfolds. Using project management
processes to deliver a program generally will not work (although many
of the tools are superficially similar). From a
governance and stakeholder management perspective the
expectation of 'on time and on budget' that has some relevance to
project governance is totally counterproductive in program management
space where the focus needs to be on benefits realisation and value
From the very beginnings of
modern project management, there
has been confusion in the terms; the Manhattan
‘project’ to create two
completely different ‘atom bombs’ involved numerous
major projects such as the
construction of major factories and the operation of those plants. The Manhattan
by all modern definitions a full blown program of work. A decade later,
Atlas ‘program’ to design and build a new missile
for the USA
was called a program. This
confusion continues in many quarters to the current day.
Both the OGC and the APM in
and PMI in the USA
seem to have agreed that organisations have one or more Portfolios of
and each portfolio contains a number of programs and projects. Program
management focuses on the coordination of a number of related projects
time to deliver benefits to the organisation and projects are about the
efficient delivery of an outcome. The boundary that needs to be drawn
sharply, and the focus of this paper, is between projects that are
create a known deliverable and then shut down and programs that are
to create a change and/or realise benefit(s) for the host organisation;
to circumstances as conditions change and using projects to create
deliverables within the overall matrix of the program.
These different focuses have
major consequences on the style
of management and using project management processes to deliver a
generally will not work (although many of the tools are superficially
similar). Program managers should be actively seeking to
effort to maximise benefits as the situation unfolds. Project
should be seeking to minimise ‘unnecessary’ change
to create their specified
deliverable as efficiently as possible. The key difference between a
and a program of works can be described as:
are about delivering a product to meet stakeholder needs and
unnecessary change minimised. The key element in project management is
efficiency, given that the function of the product that the project has
created to produce is (or should be) known at the start in reasonable
and often the nature of the product is also defined.
are about delivering benefits to the organisation within defined
and in alignment with its strategic objectives. Changing the elements
program to maximise benefits actually realised, and maintaining
changing strategic objectives is essential. The key focus of project
is in the area of integration, alignment and adjustment working in
the operational and strategic elements of the organisation.
Whilst it is absolutely
possible and often desirable to
contract a ‘project’ to an independent third party
(eg, the developer of a
shopping complex can easily contract the building of the centre to a
construction company), it is virtually impossible to effectively
the program management role, the program manger has to be an integral
the organisations strategic business. The publicised
‘failures’ of a number of
so-called major projects, particularly in the
Defence and ICT arenas would appear to be caused by the
attempting to procure a complex program of work (frequently involving
significant elements of R&D) as a simple ‘fixed
price’ project in a
perversely misguided attempt to offload ‘risk’.
The challenge facing
organisations is to recognise the
difference between a project and a program and then apply the optimum
management approach. This paper will:
the differences between projects and programs based on the Standards.
the key differences between managing a project and managing a program.
review the qualification framework for Program Managers.
on the setting and managing realistic expectations on the part of key
stakeholders for a ‘program’ compared to a
‘project’ in terms of expected levels of change and
the risk profiles.