In some companies, program managers do work that looks a lot like what project managers do. In spite of obvious differences, people often confuse their roles.

Their names are similar but their responsibilities and missions are quite different. The modern business reality requires understanding what sets them apart from each other. So let’s learn how to see the clear difference between PMs & PMs.

The difference between projects and programs

First, it worth recognizing what separates projects from programs.

  • A project is a temporary and one-off undertaking that is generally bound by cost, budget, resource and time constraints. It has defined end dates and short-term goals.
  • A program includes several interconnected projects that complement and build off one another to achieve a larger, long-term business goal. A good program drives organizational growth and strategic benefits rather than a single deliverable.

    Who is a project manager?

    A project manager is a key person who’s responsible for a project. He/she creates the project plan and allocates assignments, tracks the progress and challenges and reports them to the concerned stakeholders.

    Besides these responsibilities, they also coordinate budget, time, and all required resources to complete the project on time.

    Project managers should pay more attention to the operational elements of the project they are handling. Often, project managers come to the managerial role after getting enough expertise as an individual contributor in the field.

    Project management involves scope management, risk management, and resource management.

    One more their responsibility is to make sure that their team has everything required for work. Project managers own project resources, capacity, budget, delivery, and collaboration.

    Who’s a program manager?

    The role of a program manager looks less tactical or administrative than a project manager’s role. However, the stakes are higher because the success of the program lies on the shoulders of the program manager. The position, role, and responsibilities may differ from company to company, from industry to industry.

    A program consists of many interrelated projects, so usually, project managers report to program managers.

    People involved in program management have to be visionaries and should know how different initiatives will affect the business. They define the projects that need to be completed to reach the final goal.

    They are concentrated on the strategy and the program implementation, that’s why their responsibilities go far beyond the completion of individual projects.

    Who is a project manager?

    Bad tools can easily break a project or program while well-selected software is able to lead your business to success.

    The truth is that the better the organization of management processes is, the more efficient the project or program will be.

    Program managers more deal with cross-team collaboration and milestone management that is why they need broad big-picture data. Project managers need to zoom in and track individual tasks. They are focused on version control, issue logs, bug tracking, etc.

    Each project or program is different, so it’s also crucial to choose a project management tool with a high level of customization.

    Similar challenges of different roles

    Program managers and project managers must demonstrate extreme organization and efficiency, despite the difference in their day-to-day responsibilities.

    They face many of the same challenges and apply similar tools and techniques:

    • Both roles need a clear view of task statuses and progression. Dashboards help program and project managers to oversee who is working on what at a single glance.
    • Many programs include similar projects and it’s a good idea to templatize the work. Templates help project and program managers to start new initiatives from scratch and duplicate past success.
    • Flexible view. It is rather important for both managers to be able to view a single program or project from different angles. For example, convenient Kanban boards, to-do lists, roadmaps or charts help to see and understand the full picture.
    • Collaboration. Program managers and project managers know that it’s better to keep communication in a single, easily referenceable thread.

    Wanna get more? Feel free to study the following lists of the most popular tools in 2019:


    To sum all these up, let’s define three key points that cover the basic differences between program managers and project managers:

    • Program managers control groups of projects while project managers supervise individual projects.
    • Program managers have long-term business goals and objectives while project managers are focused on specific short-term deliverables
    • Program managers are strategic players while project managers are more tactical.