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14th May 2020
So lets take a look at what the difference is between these two roles and – if it seems like the right path for you – some of the key actions you need to take.
The simplest definition of the difference between Project and Program work is that Projects are time-bound, one off style endeavours, whereas Programs are made up of multiple, interconnected projects.
Projects will generally have defined costs, resources, budgets and time constraints. Whereas Programs involve a number of related projects, which complement each other and deliver value to the business’ long-term goals and strategies. In other words, Program Managers drive strategic benefits, overall business growth and transformation, while Project Managers focus on a clearly defined, singularly focused, tangible deliverable.
Want to learn more? Check out our guide, Project Management Career Path
It’s easy to think that the transition from Project Manager to Program Manager is just a matter of managing multiple versus single projects at a time. The reality is that the shift requires a change of focus in terms of some skills and the addition of others.
One big area of difference is the importance of soft skills. While the ability to communicate and build relationships is important for both – Program Managers need to rely more on “soft skills” to be both a business leader and manager. The ability to work with senior decision makers and build good working relationships across a broad spectrum of people – upwards, downwards and sideways – as well as show leadership, within an organisation is critical.
For Program Managers having the skills to handle and resolve politically sensitive challenges can be the difference between success and failure. Often the Program Manager must be what binds the organisation’s strategy with its ability to execute.
Having said that – the general harder skills that Project Managers possess make for a solid launching off point to Program Management. Project Managers focus on execution, meeting deadlines, staying within budget, delegating tasks and completing deliverables. These are all key skills in being able to steer a number of projects – it’s the emphasis that needs to change.
To make the transition, Project Managers need to resist their likely tendency to dive deep into the weeds of a project. It’s just not possible when you have multiple projects on the go. To be a Program Manager means not sweating every last detail with every project but taking a birds-eye view of all the projects and focusing on the bigger overall outcome as well as delivering on business objectives.
In order to deliver on this last piece, it’s likely too that you will have to become more specialised in the industry you work in and extremely well-versed in the business of and way your particular organisation operates. To be able to add value at leadership level – insight will only come from knowing all you can about your industry and your organisation.
You will also need to shift your mindset around certainty as a Program Manager, while you might know what the big picture or long-term goals are – it may be less clear exactly how you will get there. With so many moving parts in multiple projects over long periods of time – there will be plenty of unknowns. So planning and governance will become much more complex.
PMI in its paper “10 steps to transition from project to program management” sets out the essential factors for transitioning from a Project to Program Management professional. All require a mindset shift. In summary they are:
Take the time to map out your career plan. It’s always good to have your project management certifications and to attend events that will keep you up to date on the latest in the project management world. Also have a think about courses that you can take, which will move you in the program manager direction.
Join now to unlock the benefits of Australia’s leading body for project professionals.
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