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v2013-04-01

Programme Management

“What’s the difference between a project and a programme” is a very fair - and often heard - question. 

It’s even more confusing as we’d say that a programme shares many of the attributes of a project - a programme will;

  • Create and deliver some sort of change into some part of a current business operation.
  • Have a formally defined start - and end - point.
  • Be temporary, being assigned skills and resource from the organisation only for as long as needed.
  • Operate under constraints.
  • Generate a lot of risk and uncertainty.

Just like a project.

It’s a little like the distinction between ships and boats, in that a programme can contain other projects, but projects should only contain workstreams.  Which, as a clear-cut, unequivocal definition, probably doesn’t help hugely.

In simple terms, a programme will be more complicated than a project, require a wider range of skills and capabilities to create its objectives, affect more parts of a business, be longer in duration and more expensive, deliver more substantial (even transformative) benefit and probably incur more, and more critical, risk and uncertainty.  Projects can be small or big.  Programmes will be big.

If Project Management is an art ...

... requiring experienced artists to deliver them successfully, what capabilities does a programme manager need?

Luckily, not a Grand Master. 

Programme Managers have to be able to see a bigger big picture - to see the scope and progress of each project in its own right, as well as part of the inter-connected programme.  The Programme Manager must be comfortable managing a number of project managers - when each project manager may well have his or her own artistic abilities and preferences.  Programmes will generally report to a higher-level of organisational management, so the programme manager must be comfortable and effective dealing with Board-level stakeholders.  And the programme manager will be the natural escalation point for the risks, issues and problems experienced by the project managers - so an ability to stay calm, rational and solve problems is a must!

Projects often exist outside of programmes - and the same project management skills apply whether they are self-standing our part of a programme.  A portfolio is usually a collection of smaller projects which have only tenuous inter-dependencies.  Change management introduces other aspects, well beyond the simple delivery of project objectives.

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