8 Main Differences Between a Project and a Programme

Firstly, let me briefly introduce the concepts of Project and Programme Management before I attempt to explain their main differences.  Project management is much more than the tasks carried out by a project manager. Project management is a combination of the roles and responsibilities of individuals assigned to the project, the organisational structure that sets out clear reporting arrangements and the set of processes to deliver the required outcome. It ensures that everyone involved knows what is expected of them and helps to keep cost, time and risk under control.

Programme Management is a vital component in the delivery of change; whether change to public or customer services, or change within organisations. In the government context, Programme Management is what the best policy makers have always done, though they may not have called it that; thinking through the end-to-end process to translate policy into delivery plans and into desired outcomes.

Difference No. 1 – Focus
Projects focus on a ‘Single Objective’ whereas Programmes focus on ‘Business Change and Strategy’.

Difference No. 2 – Scope
Projects are usually “Narrow or Specific’ in scope whereas Programmes will be ‘Wide-ranging and Cross-functional’ in nature.

Difference No. 3 – Benefits
Benefits associated with Projects are ‘Determined in advance’ and usually ‘Accrue after completion’. In Programmes, benefits are ‘Used to make decisions’ and ‘Accrue during the lifecycle of the programme’.

Difference No. 4 – Deliverables
Projects have ‘Few, clearly defined’ deliverables but in Programmes the deliverables are ‘Many in number, with many initially being undefined’.

Difference No. 5 – Timescale
Projects will have a ‘Clearly Defined’ timeline whereas Programmes will have a ‘Loosely Defined’ schedule.

Difference No. 6 – View of Change
Projects generally tend have the ‘To be Avoided’ view on change whereas with Programmes, view of change is ‘Regarded as Inevitable’.

Difference No. 7 – Success Measures
The success measures for a project are ‘Time, Budget and Specification’. With Programmes these measures  become ‘Mission, Cashflow and Return on Investment (ROI)’.

Difference No. 8 – Planning
Projects rely on ‘Specific, Detailed and Bounded’ plans whereas Programmes have ‘High-Level and Evolving’ plans.


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