Published here September 2016

Introduction | What is Program Management? | GAPPS Program Typology
Distinctive Attributes of Projects, Programs, Portfolios
Is it a Program or a Project? | Summary and Conclusions

What is Program Management?

To answer this question, we can turn to an Extract from GAPPS (2011) A Framework for Performance Based Competency Standards for Program Managers.[2] This work by GAPPS concluded that there are a whole variety of "Program" situations to start with. For example, GAPPS quote three definitions as follows:[3]

"Definition of a program

  • "A temporary, flexible organization structure created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to an organization's strategic objectives; a program is likely to have a life that spans several years."[4]
  • "A program is a set of related projects and organizational changes put in place to achieve a strategic goal and to deliver the benefits that the organization expects."[5]
  • "A group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Programs may include elements of related work outside the scope of the discrete projects in the program."[6]

Other definitions of program tend to be conceptually similar to these three: all recognize that a program is expected to actually deliver benefits (rather than just create the potential for benefits), and all recognize the existence of multiple, discrete projects within a program.

"Types of Programs

Programs and program management span a wide range of undertakings:

  • Development or expansion of a major transportation system such as a subway or an urban highway
  • Implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning system and the supporting policies, processes, and procedures
  • Organizational change to implement a new corporate strategy
  • A crisis response
  • Information Technology (IT) department support for a single line function such as sales or engineering

However, some key characteristics of programs often vary considerably:

  • Program manager's authority to originate or terminate projects
  • Degree of integration with the sponsoring organization
  • How the sponsoring organization will evaluate the program manager's performance
  • Number of projects
  • Interdependence of projects
  • Similarity of technical disciplines
  • How the program is initiated and the criteria for termination"
Introduction   Introduction

2. Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS), Sydney, Australia. Parts of the Extract published here with GAPPS permission received by Email 7/21/16
3. Extract from GAPPS (2011) A Framework for Performance Based Competency Standards for Program Managers.
4. Managing Successful Programmes, UK Office of Government Commerce, 2007
5. IPMA Competence Baseline, International Project Management Association, 2006
6. The Standard for Program Management, Project Management Institute, 2008; adapted from The Handbook of Project-Based Management, J. Rodney Turner, 1992
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