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What Is Program Management?

Maggie Worth
Maggie Worth

Program management is the organization and administration of one or more programs. This usually includes all aspects of the program, including budgeting, operations, and review. Successful program management requires organization, good communication, and attention to detail.

The terms program management and project management are often used interchangeably. While many of the responsibilities and functions are the same, the two functions do differ. Program management generally refers to the running of a permanent initiative, or one that is intended to last for at least several years. Project management usually refers to managing a project with a defined start date and end date and consisting of fairly concrete deliverables.

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Program managers must often manage several short-term projects or initiatives that fall under the auspices of their programs. For example, a corporation might launch a customer loyalty program. This might consist of issuing frequent buyer cards, sending birthday emails to repeat customers, and offering advantages such as special sales or free shipping to top customers. Each of these initiatives will be a separate project during the set-up phase, but the projects need to work together to create a successful program.

Components of good program management include goal-setting, planning, organization, and effective execution. Strong program managers are able to keep track of individual tasks and details and to ensure that all are executed properly and on time. At the same time, they must always keep the big picture in mind and be able to adapt to changing priorities. They should also be good negotiators who can work well with other departments and stakeholders.

Program management encompasses a wide range of duties. These managers must set, monitor, and manage the program budget, for instance. They also must select vendors to execute any outsourced functions and may need to supervise a staff. If the program is regulated by an outside source, such as a governmental agency, they must ensure that the program follows all rules and restrictions imposed by the agency. They may also need to report on the financial or operational status of the program from time to time.

In many cases, program management also means promoting the benefits of the program — to both internal and external stakeholders. In the customer loyalty program example, the program manager would need to find a way to inform customers about the program and convince them to sign up. He may also need to convince his company’s finance manager that the program will generate enough additional sales to offset the expense of operating the program and offering discounts. If the program requires additional work by company employees, the program manager might need to show an operations manager how that extra effort will ultimately benefit his store or department.

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