News Page Company Profile Consulting & ADR Resources & Papers Tools & Techniques Stakeholder Management Training Home

Understanding Programs and Projects
- Oh, there's a difference! -

Fitzgerald’s First Law of Program Management:
There are only two phases to a big program: Too early to tell and too late to stop!

Quoted by Mr. Blaise Durante,
Deputy Assistant Secretary (Acquisition Integration) U.S. Airforce

Keywords: Projects, Programs, Complexity, Communications, Stakeholders.

Return to Main Paper Index

Return to Alphabetical Paper Index

Understanding Programs and Projects  [P078]

The challenge facing organisations is to know the difference between a major project and a program and then apply the optimum management approach. In both situations an appreciation of the ideas contained in ‘Complexity Theory’ and CRPR in particular will add a depth of understanding to a complicated situation.

Projects and Programs are different! Unfortunately, this difference has been ignored or confused by many people for too long. Project management is focused on the efficient creation of a known deliverable; project managers should be seeking to minimise ‘unnecessary’ change to create their specified deliverable as efficiently as possible. Program management focuses on the coordination of a number of related projects over time to deliver benefits to the organisation; program managers should be actively seeking to adapt future effort to maximise benefits as the situation unfolds. Using project management processes to deliver a program generally will not work (although many of the tools are superficially similar).  From a governance and stakeholder management perspective the expectation of 'on time and on budget' that has some relevance to project governance is totally counterproductive in program management space where the focus needs to be on benefits realisation and value management.

From the very beginnings of modern project management, there has been confusion in the terms; the Manhattan ‘project’ to create two completely different ‘atom bombs’ involved numerous major projects such as the construction of major factories and the operation of those plants. The Manhattan ‘project’ was by all modern definitions a full blown program of work. A decade later, the Atlas ‘program’ to design and build a new missile for the USA was called a program. This confusion continues in many quarters to the current day.

Both the OGC and the APM in the UK and PMI in the USA seem to have agreed that organisations have one or more Portfolios of projects and each portfolio contains a number of programs and projects. Program management focuses on the coordination of a number of related projects over time to deliver benefits to the organisation and projects are about the efficient delivery of an outcome. The boundary that needs to be drawn much more sharply, and the focus of this paper, is between projects that are initiated to create a known deliverable and then shut down and programs that are initiated to create a change and/or realise benefit(s) for the host organisation; adapting to circumstances as conditions change and using projects to create individual deliverables within the overall matrix of the program. 

These different focuses have major consequences on the style of management and using project management processes to deliver a program generally will not work (although many of the tools are superficially similar).  Program managers should be actively seeking to adapt future effort to maximise benefits as the situation unfolds.  Project managers should be seeking to minimise ‘unnecessary’ change to create their specified deliverable as efficiently as possible. The key difference between a project and a program of works can be described as:

Whilst it is absolutely possible and often desirable to contract a ‘project’ to an independent third party (eg, the developer of a shopping complex can easily contract the building of the centre to a construction company), it is virtually impossible to effectively contract out the program management role, the program manger has to be an integral part of the organisations strategic business. The publicised ‘failures’ of a number of so-called major projects, particularly in the  Defence and ICT arenas would appear to be caused by the clients attempting to procure a complex program of work (frequently involving significant elements of R&D) as a simple ‘fixed price’ project in a perversely misguided attempt to offload ‘risk’.

The challenge facing organisations is to recognise the difference between a project and a program and then apply the optimum management approach. This paper will:

Author: Patrick Weaver

Presented, Feb. 2010, at
PMI Congress
Download paper
Download the full paper

Mosaic's PgMP

Exam Prep
Course
-
Available World-Wide
via
Mentored Email™
Download paper

PM Asia
Previewed, PM Asia: Download the PowerPoint
.


Home - Contact Us - Site Map - Company - Training - Consulting - Resources - Legals


Tel: (03) 9696 8684
.Intl: +613 9696 8684

Copyright © 2010 Practical PM Pty. Ltd.
All rights reserved.
Important legal notices, disclaimer and trademark attributions.