How to tell the difference between Programs and Projects

By John Knox | Harkcon’s Senior Program Manager

How often have you heard the terms programs and projects used interchangeably? Or program manager versus project manager? In this blog, I will attempt to explain and simplify the difference.

While both may use similar tools and processes prescribed in PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Fifth Edition (better known as the PMBOK® Guide), the roles of the program manager and project manager are distinct.

The program manager has a much broader and strategic view, which typically involves multiple projects that are all related and working toward the same big picture goal. The program manager is responsible for multiple projects and teams within the program. In short, the program manager is responsible for the program outcomes impacted by each of the projects within the program

On the other hand, the project manager is focused on a specific project that is temporary with a defined beginning, defined end, and defined scope. The project manager is focused on managing a specific project’s scope, cost, and schedule. In short, the project manager is focused on the project outcome.

In conclusion, the program manager has a broad, strategic view of the entire program and all projects within it, while the project manager is specifically focused on the outcomes of a specific project. If you would like to contact the author of this blog, send an email to and reference the title, "How to tell the difference between Programs and Projects."

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