Project Management vs. Program Management

In many organizations, there will be both program and project managers. Some people think these two types of managers perform the same duties, but this is not the case. The term project has already been defined;


It refers to a collection of projects that are centrally managed and often have interrelated goals. For example, an IT department in a large organization has several projects which include creating a new, dynamic Web site, creating a corporate Intranet, and building a corporate-wide content management system. All of these initiatives are individual projects and each could have a project manager.

But all of these projects also fall under a single program, which could have a program manager. The program manager provides leadership for all project managers, makes sure there is appropriate communication between project managers, and makes sure overarching goals are achieved. It is important to differentiate between these two types of managers, as each manager has significantly different roles and responsibilities.

Complications Involving IT Projects

Because we are primarily concerned with IT project management, we must discuss skill sets that go beyond traditional project management. The nature of technology is that of change. Technology has a lifespan of approximately 18 months before an “upgrade” or new and improved technology is released. With long-term IT projects, this may have a profound impact. What should a project manager do if, in the middle of a large 2-year project, a new technology is released that would improve the quality of the final deliverable?

These are things that IT project managers need to understand how to deal with because these issues arise often. One suggestion is to always keep your sponsor and stakeholder informed concerning these decision points. It would make sense in the scenario outlined above for the project manager to put together a document outlining what additional features the new technology could provide, as well as what impact it would have on the project scope, time, and budget if the new technology were to be implemented.

You are essentially offering the sponsor a choice: To continue with the original project plan with the current technology, or to deviate from the project plan and incorporate the new technology. As an IT project manager, it is your responsibility to not only keep the sponsor informed, but also offer your professional opinion and guidance regarding this critical decision point in the project.

Key IT Project Manager Duties

As mentioned earlier, a project manager needs to be very well organized and have solid communication skills. Projects always involve uncertainty. By being organized, project managers can deal with uncertainty in a more efficient manner. The project manager is also responsible for keeping the project team informed and on task, delivering essential information to keep the project moving forward in a timely manner.

One additional skill that is extremely helpful to IT project managers is to have a solid understanding of technology, both hardware and software, how these technologies work, and potential uses for these technologies. Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when technology started to play a larger and larger role in everyday life, many IT projects failed due to poor management. Organizations tended to simply transition good managers to the IT department to manage large-scale IT projects. Because general project managers did not have IT-specific skills, this failed miserably, still fails in many places, and will continue to fail in the future if this remains the strategy for managing IT projects.

Putt’s Law states that the technology field is dominated by two types of people:

1. those who understand what they do not manage

2. those who manage what they do not understand.

This is a recipe for failure. Many organizations can attest to this from past experiences. This course is designed to create individuals who enter the technology workforce able to both manage and understand technology-centric projects, as well as effectively work within IT project teams.

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