Project Management vs Program Management

I am obviously far from an apologist for all things Project Management (the prevalence and blind embrace we give to PMI, PMP, every other acronym known in the project management certification universe, is sometimes rather exhausting). Lately, however, I have been analyzing the difference in mindset between a typical “project manager” and someone more sophisticated – namely a “program manager”.

To me, a project manager is like a line cook. Meticulously dedicated to the ingredients, the recipe, the steps to prepare a perfect dish. The program manager, however, is the one tasked with understanding where the line cook’s dish fits within the overall context of a meal. The project manager, in the face of adversity, will inevitably have tunnel vision. They will be derailed the moment any one thing changes (lack of availability for an ingredient, the absence of a critical cooking surface/tool, etc). The program manager, though, has the foresight and the understanding of how to make it all work, even against all odds. They understand if the patrons are vegetarian, they understand how meals must be coursed rather than served all at once. They embrace customer expectations and adapt their philosophy to fit the needs of a given situation.

Sure, I am giving program managers a little bit too much credit here. Even they can be as blinded by factors external to their tunnel as the project manager. But – the more we can start to make people think like a program manager more often (and – in doing so – understand where they fit in the grand scheme of things), the sooner we will see┬áthe macro picture instead of simply having to settle for the micro.

Til Next Time,


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