Program Management: Definition, Roles, Responsibilities

Updated Aug 3, 2022.
program-management

Many people tend to assume that “program management” and “project management” mean the same thing. Although they are interrelated, these two terms have some noticeable differences.

Enterprise organizations often have multiple projects they need to complete at the same time. Managing multiple projects can seem like you are juggling too many balls and doing a poor job of keeping them in sync and from crashing to the ground.

To effectively manage multiple projects successfully, you need to see the big picture across various interdependent projects while managing each project. While project management can help you to manage multiple projects, if the projects are interconnected, program management is a better alternative.

In this guide, you will learn what you need to know about mprogram management and how it differs from project management.

Let’s get started.

What is Program Management?

Program management is the strategic and organized planning, control, execution, and delivery of multiple projects that contribute towards the same company goals.

You can also define program management as the coordinated and simultaneous management of related projects, with the main focus placed on saving time and resources in the delivery of a program (a seemingly much larger project). However, the idea of program management goes beyond managing related or similar projects.

Effective program management places focus on the efficient utilization of resources, costs, and team member availability between related projects for more productivity.

Cross-functional team members are picked from different departments within your company and made to collaborate on these simultaneously run projects to drive the achievements of company goals faster.

Program management breeds more complex processes and workflows for it to be effective. Multiple simultaneous projects use up the same resource pool.

The aim of program management is to efficiently guide each concurrently run project to satisfactory success through the production control and management of resources and other important project elements.

Program Management Framework
Source: Pmi.org

Key Functions of Program Management

1. Maintain Consistent and Effective Control and Delivery of Multiple Projects

The key function or goal of program management is to maintain consistent and effective control and delivery of multiple projects within a company with maximum productivity.

The program manager is responsible for strategically overseeing concurrently run projects. He or she creates plans and schedules and shares them with relevant stakeholders and interested parties.

Another role played by the program manager is to ensure that the program plans are followed accordingly. The program manager monitors the status and progress of multiple projects and ensures all projects are brought back on track wherever they are lagging.

With an additional duty of training individual project managers, the entire responsibility of ensuring the quality delivery of all relevant projects is on the program manager.

2. Simultaneous Running of Multiple Projects

Program management is a process that serves functions needed by large companies or organizations. For enterprise-grade organizations, the simultaneous running of projects is almost unavoidable.

Effective program management helps companies guide their projects to success while achieving all the collective goals set.

For smaller companies, program management may not be one pressing strategic process to implement, but it helps nonetheless. Where there is a need to take care of several projects, an existing program management framework makes navigating the whole situation seamlessly.

3. Ensures You Meet Key Project Deliverables

The program manager ensures that individual project deliverables are met and they all meet quality standards set during the program and project planning stages.

With enterprise project management software programs available, the functions of program management become easier to scale through.

As a program manager, you maintain a consistent global view of all projects within your portfolio, with information about individual project progress, status, and resource usage, among others, available to you in one single workspace.

Program Manager Salary in United States
Source: Indeed

4. Cost Management

Program management also takes overall cost management into account. Through proper budget management and planning, expenses across all projects are controlled and financial resources managed so they go round. Each project has its appropriate budgetary allocation from the general pool of funds available to be used up.

Overall, program management and the functions of a program manager are geared towards the quality delivery of multiple projects contributing towards a collective objective.

They include the allocation and control of all resources, both human, material, and cost while ensuring quality standards are met in the management of resources and delivery of projects.

Benefits of Program Management

There are several major benefits you stand to gain from effective project management processes, rather than individually managing projects.

1. Productive Resource Management

With a lot of projects to be managed at the same time, resources are expected to be fiercely competed for.

Understand that certain projects require more resource allocation than others, mainly because of their complexity and importance towards achieving the overall company goals. Individually managing projects means having these projects pull and use up resources without any consideration for others.

Effective program management involves creating a structured framework for resource allocation. Your program manager gives the most important projects greater priority and support, while all projects are kept within allocation limits created for them.

Program management ensures that resources are not individually pulled by different projects but allocated as appropriately as the achievement of company goals requires them to be.

Where one project needs more attention, human resources, or funding, the less important projects are easily determined and resource allocation to them may be cut down on. This is done without affecting company objectives and indicates a more productive use of resources.

2. Easier Conflict Management

Thanks to the structured control of and visibility into multiple projects, you easily manage relationships within them.

Rather than having relationships between different project managers spiral out of control, especially due to shared resource pools, program management involves creating a defined hierarchy of projects and an understanding of where general priorities lie.

3. Coordinated Risk Management

Processes towards managing risks to company objectives are easily embarked upon and coordinated across all projects. There is global visibility into risks, risk management processes are not repeated on the same risks, and important risks within individual projects that threaten the whole program are easily made known to the program manager.

4. Effective Interdependency Management

Program management helps you effectively manage project interdependencies, where you can easily determine which projects depend on others’ completion. You know how much a stalled project affects the overall progress within the program and make fast decisions so the project keeps moving forward.

Program Management vs Project Management

Identifying the difference between program management and project management is not a hard task.

1. Number of Projects Involved

Program management is a practice involving multiple projects, with all these projects steering towards a common goal. Project management, on the other hand, means controlling and delivering an individual project, with this project not necessarily aiming towards meeting a common goal with other projects.

2. Scope of Operation

While program management takes a much larger overview, focusing on the coordination of processes and strategies relating to simultaneously run projects, project management looks at a more reduced scope and is limited to tasks, budgets, resource allocations, and progress levels.

Their different scope of operation is the main difference between them. Program management majorly focuses on the efficient management of all of an organization’s available resources as they are used by individual projects in the context of a general goal.

There is always an overview by a more revered authority on projects, with resource allocation between these projects made flexible to meet prioritized demands.

Project management, on the other hand, only aims to steer towards a particular goal that may not be part of a larger plan. The aim of project management is to make the most judicious use of available resources and get delivery within the set time frame.

Regardless of all these, however, project management and program management work hand in hand. Program management is never considered successful except for the individual projects with which it is concerned to have been managed successfully.

Project management activities within a broader program are always determined by the program objectives and strategies.

Program Manager vs Project Manager
Source: Asana

Program Management Roles and Responsibilities

With program management, and just like within project management frameworks, there are several individuals involved.

Although the role of the program manager is more important than most of the other roles, close working relationships between all personnel are important for guiding the program towards success.

1. The Program Sponsor

The program sponsor may be one individual, or within a large organization, a group of individuals that hold the most authority within the project and entire organization.

Responsibilities

  • Program authorization
  • Determines program funding
  • Makes important decisions on emerging program issues
  • Support program personnel and execution
  • Approves milestones and progress within the program
  • Determines if program results are satisfactory enough to be called a success
  • Appoints the senior responsible owner

3. The Senior Responsible Owner (SRO)

The senior responsible owner (SRO) is a sponsor appointed to maintain the closest relationship with other program personnel. In a case where there is only one sponsor, this individual is not appointed and automatically serves as the SRO. The SRO makes decisions on behalf of the other sponsors.

Responsibilities

  • Serves as a bridge between sponsors and other personnel
  • Guards the interest of other program sponsors and objectives
  • Manages strategic risks
  • Handles every other responsibility of program sponsors

3. The Program Manager

The program manager is the personnel with the most responsibilities within any program management framework. He or she serves as the main leader within the program, ensuring the coordination of projects and appropriate governance of resources and communications. This individual is typically required to have the appropriate project management certifications.

Responsibilities

  • Program planning
  • Governance definition
  • Project prioritization
  • Program cost management
  • Program resource management
  • Program tracking
  • Program change management
  • Communication management

4. Business Change Manager

The BCM focuses on benefit and opportunity realization and exploitation within the program and processes towards change management to incorporate these into the framework.

Responsibilities

  • Identifies benefits within the program
  • Develop plans for realizing benefits
  • Tracks related KPIs
  • Advises program manager on benefit realization
  • Presents transition processes

5. Program Management Office

The program management office relates to any supporting personnel or group of individuals that support the project manager in the execution of his or her duties.

Traits of a Good Program Manager

Serving the most important role, the program manager is expected to possess certain traits and skills required for the discharge of his/her duties. These traits are not quite different from the essential project management skills required of a project manager.

1. Practical Experience in Project Management

The successful coordination and management of multiple projects and personnel within it does not seem feasible if the individual expected to do this cannot assuredly manage just one of them.

Guiding multiple projects to success requires strong experience in project management. As a program manager, you are expected to know all the strategic intricacies and processes involved in it.

This experience is even more profound and respected if it was gained successfully managing large and complex projects. Such experience shows much-needed competence.

2. Great Understanding of the Objectives of the Program

Any chosen program manager, like a project manager, is expected to have an understanding of what he is to accomplish. Maintaining projects and steering them right back on track is only possible when you know what is expected from each project and the entire program.

Program prioritization and resource allocations are only appropriate in the context of what the program stands to achieve.

3. Positive Communication and Engagement Skills

The program manager is saddled with the responsibility of managing conflict within the program, as well as communicating plans, changes, and other important information to every other individual.

For an individual considered the most important member of an extensively cross-functional team, bad communication skills hinder a lot.

A program manager is expected to not only have great relationships with other individuals but also have the ability to build relationships through efficient communication.

4. Excellent Knowledge of Budgeting and Resource Allocation

One of the most important responsibilities of a program manager, resource allocation and reallocation could make or break the whole program.

Inappropriately starving or overfeeding projects due to poor resource management skills does not just threaten the whole program objective but even the completion of individual projects.

Great budgeting and resource management skills, therefore, serve as very important traits for a program manager to possess.

Some other important program manager skills include:

  • Good knowledge of program management methodologies
  • Strong leadership skills
  • Great creativity and innovation for problem-solving

The Program Management Process

The program lifecycle and management process remain much similar to that of individual projects. Where the difference lies is in the scope of all relevant elements within it and the length of time it takes one program to come to an end compared to projects.

1. The Initiation Phase

The initiation phase is the stage within the program life cycle where the decision of whether to proceed with the program and how to proceed is made.

In this stage, the sponsors and other individuals with senior roles play an important part, taking into account available resources as well as the general goals intended to be achieved through the program.

A case is made for the program, with this proposal either accepted or rejected after considerations are made. Here, there is a look into other programs being developed at that time, and a decision on whether to merge the newly approved program with them or not is made.

The program initiation phase primarily concerns itself with whether it is necessary, in relation to business goals and current resource availability, to proceed with a proposed program.

2. The Program Planning Phase

The program planning phase is where you make official and detailed documentations, develop strategies, establish frameworks for the execution and governance of the program and projects within it.

A program manager develops all plans such as important work structures, prioritization of projects, documentation of members, communication structures, and identification of external contractors, among others.

The program planning phase represents where all actions to be executed and how they are executed are properly defined. A program definition document is developed and serves as a reference point for all team members to get reacquainted with defined frameworks and strategies.

3. The Resource Allocation Stage

Although the identification of resource pools and how resources are distributed are defined in the program planning stage, the resource allocation stage is where these resources are distributed for work to begin on individual projects.

Here, the program manager and other individuals in the program management office (PMO) ensure that resources are appropriately distributed based on project prioritizations and according to structures established in the planning stage.

4. The Program Execution and Management Phase

The program execution and management phase involves close supervision of projects and tasks within them to ensure that they follow plans developed during the planning stage.

As a program manager, you track projects to ensure that all projects steer towards the program objective, engage in appropriate change management, and manage communications, among others.

5. The Closing Phase

Once all projects are completed, the closing phase commences. Here, all projects are reviewed for quality standard compliance, documentation is compiled and stored for future use, and team members are discharged or reassigned to other programs within the organization.

The program management lifecycle goes even deeper within these individual phases and is more complex than it seems. However, having a great team and excellent leader as the program manager puts you on a path to success, ensuring all expertise is on hand to coordinate and guide multiple projects to a satisfactory completion.

Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.