Programme Manager vs Project Manager: Key Differences, Similarities, and Differences

Similarities, differences, and similarities between the Programme Manager and Project Manager, two completely different yet very similar roles.

Programme vs Project Manager

If you've ever been involved in a major project for a huge company, you've probably come across two key roles: the project manager and the programme manager.

You might be confused. What's the difference? Isn't a project a small programme? Are they both the same kind of manager? Is a programme manager the project manager's boss?

Well the answer to those four questions is yes, no, no, sometimes, always, and absolutely not.

Programme Manager vs Project Manager — In a nutshell

Basically, the programme manager is responsible for maintaining an overview of a programme, ensuring that all the stakeholders are duly apprised of their responsibilities and push their work streams forwards in order to meet key deadlines.

The project manager, on the other hand, is responsible for achieving targets by conducting operations in accordance with their responsibilities of which they have been advised by their supervisor.

The difference between them is the scope of their duty. While projects can be very large and programmes can be very small, programmes can also be very large whereas projects can be very small.

A programme may contain one or more projects, whereas a project may only contain one or more programmes.

A project is a temporary endeavour of varying timeframes undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. A programme, on the other hand, is a long-term plan of action designed to achieve a specific goal or set of goals.

Does the Project Manager work for the Programme Manager?

Generally speaking, no, although it can happen sometimes. A programme doesn't have to contain a project, but in the case that it does, it can be that a junior programme manager manages that specific project.

A project manager generally works for a senior project manager. A project manager also may work for a program manager, and a program manager may work for a senior project manager.

Organisation structure of a Programme

Here's a basic org chart of a programme.

Chart of programmes and projects

In most instances, there would be a main programme with at least one project within it. The project would have its own programme which would contain a number of tasks or work packages, and possibly the entire programme itself, recursively.

When does a Project become a Programme?

A project becomes a programme when it starts involving at least three sub projects.

A project also becomes a programme when it is given a specific timeline and budget, and when it is assigned to a manager with specific programme management responsibilities. A project with no manager does not even exist.

A programme can become a project when it has a specific goal, a timeline, and a budget. Otherwise, a programme is just a meandering series of pointless activities.

Job description for a Project Programme Manager

The project programme manager is responsible for the successful planning and execution of a project, ensuring that it is completed on time, within budget and to the required standard.

They will manage the programme team, ensuring that all tasks are completed efficiently and that communication between team members is clear and effective.

The project programme manager will also be responsible for ensuring that all stakeholders are kept up to date with the project's progress and that any risks or issues are addressed promptly.