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Libro Project sponsorship landing

Project versus Program – Some criteria you may use

Last October I had the opportunity to consult a Telecom organization on program management in South America. The major challenge I had at the beginning was to explain the differences between the concept of project and program to their executives. It took me sometime to explain them the  characteristics, benefits and the advantages to get the upper managers buy in to start the program management implementation. A good material to study is the book “Program Management” from Michel Thiry .

Many people are uncertain about the difference between a project and a program. It is also important that management consultants use consistent terms and language when describing work to be undertaken in order that the client can understand the nature and scale of the consulting intervention that will be required. The nature of the consulting work required to support projects and programs is quite different.

One of the key critical aspects to consider is that implementing program management in an organization is a program itself which needs a Sponsor. In my last real experience the Sponsor was the Manager from the IT Division on the customer site. I used him to deliver some speeches in front of his organization to explain the implementation program. It was crucil for the program success.

What is a project?
There are several definitions according to PMI, IPMA, APM and other professional institutions and associations, but we can say that a project is a temporary entity established to deliver specific (often tangible) outputs in line with predefined time, cost and quality constraints. A project should always be defined and executed and evaluated relative to an (Executive) approved business case which balances the costs, benefits and risks of the project. The project business case should be managed under change control. More information about that can be found in the book “The Complete Project Manager“.

What is a Program?
A program is a set of projects that are managed and coordinated as one unit with the objective of achieving (often intangible) outcomes and benefits for the organization.

Some differences between a Project and a Program
The following table summarizes some of the main areas of difference between a project and a program.

  Project Program
Objectives Outputs – tangible; relatively easy to describe, define and measure; tending towards objective. Outcomes – often  intangible; difficult to quantify; benefits often based on changes to organizational culture and behaviors; introducing new capabilities into the organization; tending towards subjective.
Scope Strictly limited; tightly defined; not likely to be subject to material change during the life of the project. Not tightly defined or bounded; likely to change during the life cycle of the program.
Duration Relatively short term; typically three to six months. Relatively long term typically eighteen months to three years.
Risk profile Project risk is relatively easy to identify and manage. The project failure would result in relatively limited impact on the organization relative to program risk. Program risk is more complex and potentially the impact on the organization if a risk materializes will be greater relative to project risk. Programme failure could result in material financial, reputational or operational loss.
Nature of the problem Clearly defined. Ill-defined; often disagreement between key stakeholders on the nature and definition of the problem.
Nature of the solution A relatively limited number of potential solutions. A significant number of potential solutions with often with disagreement between stakeholders as to the preferred solution.
Stakeholders A relatively limited number of stakeholders. A significant number of diverse stakeholders; probable disagreement between them as to the definition of the problem & the preferred solution.
Relationship to environment Environment within which the project takes place is understood and relatively stable. Environment is dynamic; and programme objectives need to be managed in the context of the changing environment within which the organization operates.
Resources Resources to deliver the project can be reasonably estimated in advance. Resources are constrained and limited; there is competition for resources between projects.

I tried to summarize what I learned during program management implementation in the Telecom industry in Spain and South America. I hope to be useful for you. Perhaps you may find more arguments that may help others. Please share what you learned.

Today is a Good Day to learn more about Program Management!

Alfonso Bucero, MSc, CPS, PMP. PMI-RMP, PfMP, PMI Fellow

Managing Partner

BUCERO PM Consulting

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