Most people have had at least a cursory introduction to project management. Maybe you’ve planned a wedding or built a house or even just completed some sort of project at your job.

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result, with a defined beginning and end time, and therefore defined scope and resources. Project management, on the other hand, is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet the project requirements. For example, a mission to get to the moon could be considered a program, but the connected pieces needed to get there are projects: crafting the space shuttle, developing the spacesuits, etc.

If you’ve ever managed a budget,  timeline, or resources for any sort of temporary endeavor, you’ve participated in project management!

What many people don’t know is that there are defined industry best practices for more than just project management, but also program management as well.

According to the PMI, a program is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated manner to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually. Program management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet program requirements.

For those who have completed any level of project management training, it’s important to note that the roles and responsibilities of a good project manager, while related, are different than those of a program manager.

Here are two major differences:


A project manager focuses on finding the right resources for their project and making sure they can be successful. Often this means escalating staffing issues upward to find an appropriate resource.

A program manager focuses on balancing resources among multiple projects. Sometimes this can involve making a difficult decision related to pulling a valuable resource off of one project and placing them onto another. Rather than focusing on finding the right resources for your project, program management often requires balancing those resources among multiple different projects.


One of a project manager’s main responsibilities is making sure that the scope of the project is contained to what is described in the charter. They ensure that the scope doesn’t overreach and extend beyond the boundaries of the project.

A program manager, meanwhile, considers scope at a higher level. While a project manager may successfully deem a portion of work as being outside of their project, the program manager would need to identify whether that work should be moved to a different project, a new project, or whether it even serves the larger needs of the program.