The Ultimate Guide to Program Management

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Last Updated on February 19, 2021 by Mandy Schmitz

Program Management Guide
Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

As a business owner, you can enable transformational changes with efficient program management. With them, your company can implement, oversee, direct, and coordinate several interrelated projects. As such, these programs will deliver benefits and outcomes that are aligned with your business’s strategic objectives.And if you’re wondering how you can get started with a program or what area of your business you can use them for? Well, any program can comprise several projects across different business areas. One good example is having projects running in the IT departments, distribution, marketing, and sales if you want to launch a new product or service. These projects will have one focus: providing the result required by the program. You can have a program that makes one aspect of your portfolio or as a standalone program.

Your program management routines will continue to deliver business benefits and ongoing results for your business, even though the project’s focus is to deliver a specific output. Ultimately, you can have programs that last between one or two years.

Your business will benefit a lot when you can differentiate between a project and a program. Having a clear grasp between the two will also give you an edge over the competition. As such, let’s discuss the difference between the two.

What is a Program?

Simply put, a program is multiple projects that your business manages and delivers as a separate package. Your program manager’s task is to ensure all projects accomplish their outcomes by overseeing all the projects comprising the program.

What is a Project?

A project is a singular, specific endeavor aimed at delivering a tangible output. A project manager’s responsibility is to ensure that a project delivers within a defined budget and timeframe on its intended output.

program management vs project management
Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

Difference Between Programs and Projects

Some of the difference between programs and projects include:


· The focus of programs is outcomes. These outcomes are often not concrete. The collective benefits of the program’s projects will determine the benefits a program can provide. You can have a program outcome through political or cultural changes in your company or change the way you operate your business.

· The focus of projects is to achieve tangible outputs. It is about your gain upon completing a project.


· Though it is less common, you can organize a particularly long project into multiple phases.

· It may take a long time for you to complete programs when these programs have more to deliver. Thus, you may organize your programs into tranches or phases.

· The typical project may not take a long time to complete, while it can take several years to complete some projects.


· A collection of projects is a program. As such, you will have a connected package of work from all the projects. For the program to achieve its overall objectives, the different projects will have to complement each other. You can have several projects within your program overlapping. Your company may ensure the program’s smooth progression when the program manager works with the relevant project managers by assessing these overlaps.

· A project represents a focused, single endeavor.

What is Program Management?

Program management is managing all the interrelated projects that make up the program. With the program, you can link in with your company change functions within the affected business areas. Further, it will ensure that your company implements those changes. Crucial to having a viable program is planning tasks and work. However, your organization’s ongoing strategy is closely tied to the work, instead of precise deliverables.

Program Management Key Aspects

  • Infrastructure – you will be able to support the program planning when you create the right work environment. Your company can develop a program plan based on particular controls, timescales, resources, and projects for the overall program.
  • Financial Management – you will need to track and control the costs of managing the program.
  • Management – ensuring that you undertake regular reviews, plan the overall program and the projects and engage the stakeholders.
  • Governance – defines the program’s responsibilities and roles and assesses its progress by defining the metrics and processes.

Program Management vs. Project Management

There is a difference between program management and project management. Generally, project management has to do with immediate goals, timelines, or tasks of the project. The program management involves more of the company’s corporate and strategic execution at a senior level with a larger-scale impact on the organization’s business and financial goal achievement.

You can differentiate the two with the following:


  • Programs are strategic. Their focus is on the larger picture. They achieve objectives using a strategy and have a clear advantage for the company, including results and growth.
  • Projects are more of tactics, intending to complete tasks and deliver them within the budget and time.

Change Management

  • Programs comprise more complicated change management due to size. Programs are also connected to the company’s overall strategy. As such, they are more prone to shifting business goals and market changes.
  • Projects have no adherence to the company’s strict change management policy. However, they tend to be less susceptible to overall market changes.


  • Programs have to do with senior-level direction and management. With that, they have more power, influence, and authority to impose wide decisions and resolve issues. As such, they are about governance standards and control gates.
  • Projects may involve all levels of management, including VPs and managers. However, it has less formal controls and governance for decisions. It also has to adhere to the business’s formal change.


  • Budget planning and financial management of the programs tend to be sensitive and complicated. You may not compare it with having a budget and managing it because its cost and revenue are generally substantial to your business.
  • There is a budget allocated to projects. The project manager’s task will be to manage this budget within such an estimate.

Financial Calendar

  • Programs have close connections with an organization’s financial calendar, including quarterly outcomes.
  • Projects have a typical timeframe on a particular project and not the company or timeline.


  • Programs involve operations and business. Therefore, their durations are longer than that of projects since they require constant improvement, planning, and long-term strategy.
  • Projects focus on the project deadline.

Program Management Benefits

Your company can have a much more comprehensive view through program management. What forms a program for your organization is a few projects affecting its overall functionalities and structure. You will have a different set of tasks for every project designed to accomplish a set of goals. Therefore, the company’s program manager is responsible for ensuring that one project’s goals don’t conflict with another. Success will be achieved when the individual responsible for this has a comprehensive view of the company and its business.

Ability to Choose the Best Projects

Your company will have the chance to choose the most relevant projects in a program. These projects must align to help your business meet its goal. The company can be sure that the team’s efforts are spent on delivering the objectives when it picks and prioritizes the right and most cost-effective projects. Your organization will be able to see if a project will not help meet the overall program goals. The company can do something about it by moving it to another program, bringing it back on track, or closing it altogether.

Managing Interdependencies with Ease

Sometimes, a project may depend on another. You may have a project that delivers what another project needs before you can start it. These are mostly enabling or infrastructure-related projects. However, their importance is the same as those that come after them. You have a project interdependence when a project relies on another project. When you have the big picture, which program management provides, you can benefit from managing these projects.

More Risk Visibility

You will have better visibility of risks with your program. The business will have a structured way to manage and coordinate risk management. There is also the huge benefit when there is a program office that can help maintain action plans and logs on behalf of the program manager. Getting more risk visibility means sharing them between projects, thereby putting management and mitigation plans in place. Project teams won’t duplicate work mitigating similar risks when they work together.

Managing Conflicts with Ease

When you have a program structure in place, it will be easier to identify and manage entire projects or individuals regarding your team’s interpersonal skills. The structure will give a clear line of overall governance and hierarchy. With that, there is an assurance of having someone on hand to make decisions about project priorities.

program management roles
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Program Management Roles and Responsibilities

The program management aims to offer oversight to achieve a stated outcome. The precise overall hallmarks of good program management include working to achieve the desired result, mitigating challenges, managing different stakeholders, and effectively coordinating several projects.

A program can outlive, conclude, and deploy several different projects, unlike projects with lifespans and timetables. The argument from some quarters is that programs, like projects, can have an ultimate lifespan. But, more often than not, programs are evolving and ongoing initiatives.

Successful programs require many moving parts. A sponsor or board of directors can assign a sponsor or senior responsible owner (SRO). As a senior-level individual, the person is the representative who provides visible support, secure funding, and set the goals.

Some of the tasks associated with program management are:

  • Ensuring alignment with business objectives and goals
  • Managing and identifying adherence to governance and standards
  • Documenting the program
  • Managing program risk
  • Assigning and identifying program team members
  • Managing quality and timeliness of deliverables
  • Managing budgets
  • Resolving program delays and problems
  • Coordinating interdependent projects connected with the program
  • Identifying projects necessary to achieve the program’s objectives
  • Analytics and reporting
  • Monitoring daily program activities
  • Planning programs
  • Identifying and understanding objectives
  • Communicating with project managers and other stakeholders actively
  • Problem-solving and decision making associated with projects and programs
  • Ensuring the company achieves goals by overseeing all activities associated with all programs

Sponsor or Sponsoring Group

A sponsor is typically a senior executive that brings about the business change. And since all forms of decision come from them, a sponsor is usually the most important person in a program. There are different sponsorship levels in most events, with tiers that go for several costs. As such, the program manager will turn to the sponsor when they need leadership, support, cross-department, and a higher budget.

The sponsoring group is typically Senior Responsible Owner with representation in senior-level sponsorship of the business change. The group can collectively provide the Investment Decision Maker and offer a top-level endorsement of the objectives and rationale, more commonly associated with programs. These peers may also act as the program board.

Sponsoring Group Purpose

Sponsorship means providing a top-level endorsement of the project or program objectives and rationale. The sponsorship group’s purpose also implies championing implementing the new delivered capabilities, support for the proposed change, and continuing senior-level commitment. The group aligns with key stakeholders and Senior Responsible Owner in the proposed change. When representing the senior manager, the group is also responsible for:

  • Involving in the necessity to implement change by providing the top-level commitment
  • Demonstrating and setting the traits necessary to support change
  • Establishing the environment best suited to achieving program objectives
  • Defining the business direction
  • Making the key investment decisions

Senior Responsible Owner (SRO)

As a recognized key leadership figure, the Senior Responsible Owner, SRO, drives forward the company change, accountable for successful delivery, and the noticeable proprietor of the overall business change.

Purpose of the SRO Role

The SRO’s responsibility is to ensure that projects and programs deliver their projected benefits while meeting their objectives. The SRO:

  • Is the crucial leadership figure that drives the company forward
  • Everyone must recognize them throughout the organization
  • Is the visible owner of the overall business change

Since the SRO has clear authority and manages the overall context like risk, the SRO also ensures that the business maintains the change process with the business focus. Such individual needs to be senior with the necessary authority to make critical decisions.

Specific Responsibilities of the SRO

Some of the high-level, key functions that the SRO must have are:

  • Ensure that logical and coherent organizational plans are maintained
  • Develop a program and project logical plans and organizational structure
  • Secure the required investment for the business change
  • Ensure that the planned change aim continue to align with the business direction and establish the project and program firm basis during its definition and initiation
  • Own the business case and project or program brief

Program Manager Role

The program manager acts as a coordinator for a company’s projects. As the program manager ensures that the company’s objectives align with project goals, they also organize and supervise its activities. A program manager does not oversee individual projects directly, which makes them different from a project manager. Some of their roles include:

  • Working with the marketing team on strategy
  • Analyzing program risks
  • Producing timely and accurate program status reporting throughout its lifecycle
  • Meeting with stakeholders to make communication transparent and easy regarding decisions on services and project issues
  • Managing and implementing interventions and changes to ensure the company achieve project goals
  • Ensuring that the company meets its goals in areas like team member performance, quality, safety, and customer satisfaction
  • Managing a team with a diverse array of responsibilities and talents
  • Working on program funding proposals to guarantee uninterrupted service delivery
  • Developing an evaluation technique to identify areas for improvement and assess program strengths
  • Managing and creating long-term goals
  • Developing new programs to support the company’s strategic direction
  • Organizing activities and programs under the organization’s goals and mission

Program Manager (vs. Project Manager)

Your business will benefit a lot when you understand who manages each and the precise roles assigned to each. Depending on the company, the program manager role varies. While there is an emphasis on the business side of the role, some organizations focus on specialized technology or IT and highlight the specific project and technical management qualifications.

Whether delivering the set of desired outcomes or shaping the approach, program managers’ responsibility involves leading the end-to-end charge of the cross-functional program. Some of the other responsibilities of the program manager include:

  • Ensuring they achieve program-level goals
  • Independencies management between projects
  • Ensuring resources availability and capacity
  • Defining a cross-organizational roadmap
  • Budgeting and prioritizing initiatives

Program managers also have the responsibility of managing strategic initiatives that span business units and departments as they also report to a Strategic Planning Office or Enterprise PMO.

Many project managers have several years of project management experience. However, the Project Management Institute indicates that some of them are “Accidental Project Manager” since they don’t have adequate experience working in a project management position. A project manager will have some of these responsibilities:

  • Status reporting to stakeholders and team members
  • Risk management
  • Budget management
  • Resource management
  • Project approvals, scheduling, and scoping
program management resources
Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

Program Management Resources

You can carry out a specific project or task through a necessary asset like a resource. Your resource can be time, finances, tools, team, or someone. And for you to complete most projects, you will need many different resources. Before you set to start a project, you must allocate and assess these resources. Therefore, you can run out of resources midway through a project when you have poor resource planning. As such, you can delay the delivery or deadline of the final service or product.

If you are adding program management to your business or you are using one, you can have some of these resources handy:

The Program Management Process

Whether you intend to roll out a marketing campaign, launching an app, or constructing a building, you need a series of processes to bring it to fruition. And regardless of the type of deliverability or the industry, there’s consistency with these processes. Therefore, what are these program management processes, and what do they entail?

These processes are initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing. You must report and monitor constantly throughout these program phases. That is where you need project management tools. You won’t have to scramble to meet deadlines, monitor progress, and gather actionable data with them.

Let’s discuss these five stages of program management.


All projects start in this stage. You will need to determine the value and visibility of the project. You need to create two documents to sell your idea to sponsors or stakeholders:

Feasibility Study

With this study, you can evaluate the whole endeavor’s cost, the completion timeline, and the project’s goal. You can also note the required resources for the project fulfillment, not leaving behind the business and financial sense of it.

Business Case

You will justify the need for the endeavor, including ROI analysis.


The next stage is to put a project crew together when the project is approved. A project manager will develop a blueprint that will guide the whole project from ideation to completion. You can map out the project’s scope in the blueprint, the required resources required for the deliverables, financial commitments, and estimated time. You will also include the proposal for ongoing maintenance, execution plan, communication strategy to keep up to date and involved with the stakeholders.


The project managers will perform the procurement the project requires in this phase. Further, there is a requirement for the project objective execution using effective management of the crew members. While keeping the whole project on budget and time, the project managers will maintain excellent relationships with all members, overseeing and delegating the project work.

Monitoring and Control

This phase is about measuring the project’s progress and ensuring its proper development by the project managers. You will need documentation like written and verbal status reports and data collection. You can detect any essential project change or corrective action with monitoring.


This phase entails the approval of the stakeholders when you have produced the deliverables. The project manager can end any contracts with consultants, external vendors, suppliers, or other third-party providers. All documentation will be archived after producing a final report.


As a business owner, program management can bring about the cross-fertilization of ideas. With the Program Management Office becoming a central pool for information, you can have ideas on improved project management and methodology. There will also be clear responsibility for the function and consistency of reporting, management, and approach. You can hold all project records in one central repository. The program will also allow you to identify and forecast resource conflict early, and with that, you can change authorization with impact control and assessment.


Mandy Schmitz
Mandy Schmitz is a freelance consultant and project management expert with 10+ years of experience working internationally for big brands in fintech, consumer goods and more. Join me here on to learn how to optimize your business operations and find the latest product & software reviews.


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Mandy Schmitz is a freelance consultant and project management expert with 10+ years of experience working internationally for big brands in fintech, consumer goods and more. Join me here on to learn how to optimize your business operations and find the latest product & software reviews.

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