Most people define the need for program management versus project management by the size of the work involved, either in terms of dollars or actual resources. It’s a relatively simplistic breakdown of the difference, but it works in most instances. The problem comes when you are working for a smaller organization where the number of resources are limited, but the work is complex enough that it will benefit from the additional structure provided by program management.
So a better criteria for defining when you need to implement program management is based on the complexity of the work and how well it aligns with the strategic goals of the organization. For instance, I worked on an initiative for a dot com that required us to develop a brand new product line from concept to beta deployment in a little over 3 months. The work was split among 4 project teams that operated from 4 different locations. So even though the project budget was only slightly over $1 million, the complexities of the project, the tight deadline and the need for close alignment with the product group required the establishment of program management over the project teams. Without it, we would have had 4 separate components completed within the timeline, but no actual product to deploy.
Next time, I’ll talk about some of the basic components of program management that can help you manage a program as small as the one I just described, to much larger ones such as a recent one we worked on with a $100 million budget over the course of 5 years.