Program Vs Project

October 07, 2021

By Simpliaxis


There's no denying that due to the fast-moving digital world of the modern-day, Agile teams and their leaders have to quickly respond to opportunities and challenges with new & bold initiatives, while also organising the talent around them. However, leaders often experience difficulties in deciding whether they should implement a new program or a new project, in dealing with the respective challenges and opportunities. 


It should be known that the concept of a project only deals with a small-scale deliverable within a tight schedule. On the other hand, the concept of a program refers to overseeing as well as organising several related projects, all leading towards a large-scale deliverable. But, there’s more to know about the differences between a program vs project than just the aforementioned concepts, which is why we're adding an in-depth guide as below. 


What do you mean by a project?


A project is defined as a one-time process – either to create a new service or a new product – having a certain start & endpoint. A project can also be referred to as an organisational unit where it's dedicated to the pursuance of a goal, which means the satisfactory accomplishment of creating a product on time, within a specified budget and thereby meeting the required performance levels.


Generally, a project will comprise a specific set of interlinked activities and routines along with a definite goal, which needs to be completed using defined resources and within specific periods. Projects can vary in size – be it small, medium or large.


The primary features of a project include:


  • Time-bound
  • Unique
  • Has a purpose
  • Dynamic
  • Controlled by a team


What do you mean by a program?


A program can be defined as a framework containing work plans, which further comprises a set of projects that complement each other and are aligned in an ideal sequence to achieve the perfect economies of scale. 


You must learn that in a program, multiple projects are grouped and the benefit obtained from handling a single program simply supersedes the task of handling multiple projects. The objective of a program is to reach the goals of the organisation via completing a set of projects together. 


Basic comparison chart


The following chart showcases the basic differences between project and program that you need to know about:

Comparison points




Refers to a temporary activity that takes place to create a distinct service or product, while also having a specified objective. 

Refers to a set of projects inter-linked with one another, so that the combined benefits could be achieved. 

Focus mode

Focuses on the content. 

Focuses on the context.

Time period

Only meant for the short-term.

Meant for the long-term.


To deliver either service or product.

To deliver benefits of all the combined projects together.


Tasks are highly technical. 

Tasks are usually strategic.

Functional units

Single project.

Multiple projects.




Measuring success

Success is generally measured in terms of timeliness, product quality, cost-effectiveness, customer satisfaction and following compliances. 

Success is usually measured on whether the program was able to meet the needs & requirements of the organisation, for which it was carried out. 


Key features of a project


1. Objectives are straightforward


In case you're unaware, then you must know that a project usually starts by simply listing all the strategic objectives, in a well-detailed manner. The entire project team will be briefed as a singular unit on what the common goal of the project is to be and what will be their roles in ensuring that those objectives are fulfilled. 


2. More emphasis on the deliverables


Tasks are allocated based on the need for deliverables before the deadline. This means that team members working together on a project are expected to collaborate and complete tasks in a way that's aligned with the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) set by the project manager. 


3. Process matters


It should be known that different projects will need different kinds of strategies. However, the team should be able to not only establish but also emphasize an approach that the entire team should be able to follow. 


4. Short duration and limited scope


Projects generally tend to have a limited scope and are carried out within a specific period. Even though some projects may carry on for multiple months on a stretch, most tend to be time-bound for completion within some days or weeks. 


5. Handled by a single team


Even though multiple tasks in a project can be delegated to individual team members, a project is usually managed by a single team of individuals. For instance, a project can be assigned to the marketing department where the tasks are delegated to a copy-writing team consisting of five individuals. 


Key features of a program


1. More emphasis on the overall outcome


In a program, the emphasis is more on the overall outcome or goal, rather than the deliverables. This means that additional attention is provided towards the direction of the program and recognising whether it's going precisely, as it was intended or outlined beforehand. Sometimes, projects could be reorganised, resource wastage could be reduced or even new individuals can be hired to ensure that the final objective is achieved. 


2. Properly structured in various phases


Compared to a project, an end date is rarely set in a program, because the success or failure of a program depends on the inter-project dependencies. Therefore, the deliverables of each project will finally decide the outcome of the program, which means that it can be difficult to predict an end date. Such is the reason why programs are generally structured in such a manner that developments can be accommodated as they continue to occur so that strategies could be refined along the way and end dates can be shifted, as required. 


3. Acts as a collection of projects


A program will often contain an array of multiple projects together, where they will be managed by a project management officer, who will also act as a communication portal with the top-level management. It can be possible that not all of the projects may not be correlated with one another, but all of them will be taken into account when ultimately measuring the program's failure or success by the key outcome metrics. 


4. Massive in scope and scale


Since a program contains multiple projects, you can expect it to have a massive scope and scale. Multiple program management professionals will be hired to oversee the progress of an entire program operation – learning its overall reach and effectiveness. Compared to a project, a program is vast. 


5. Flexible goals


As the success or failure of a program depends upon the individual projects, it means that the goals of a program are highly flexible and can be changed based on the needs & requirements of the individual projects. 


How to select between a project and a program?


According to experts, the following set of factors should be looked at before finally deciding which process should be undertaken:


1. The scope


Before it's decided regarding which process or method to be followed, the scope must be known and whether that scope is loose or right. If you want to adhere to strict timelines for obtaining deliverables, then it's better to opt for a project. However, if you want to opt for a less-stricter process but want to focus more on obtaining the ideal outcome or goal, then opting for a program makes sense. Moreover, it should be known that in the case of a project, your scope should be aimed at the short-term, while for a program, the scope should be aimed at being long-term. 


2. The departments


In case you only need to engage one or two departments to complete the task, then it’s better to simply opt for a project-based process. However, if the task requires multiple parties to get engaged together along with more than one project management professional, then it’s safe to go ahead with the program process. 


3. The cost-effectiveness


It must be remembered that a project requires much less manpower and resources to be able to complete when compared to a program. Therefore, if your organisation doesn't have the necessary resources, it's better to opt for a project rather than a program. 




It shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that both programs and projects are highly valuable to any enterprise out there, and each of them will have a critical role to play at certain moments. Projects tend to form a crucial component of a program, while the failure or success of a program will easily influence the decision-making upon the individual projects. Therefore, it’s up to the team leaders to decide which one they’d like to choose, based on the circumstances, challenges and objectives


At the end of the day, the question of whether one should opt for a program vs a project depends on a lot of variables. It should be remembered that what works for a certain kind of scenario one day might not work the same on the other day. Therefore, proper research and consideration should be undertaken before taking the final decision, because the process will undermine success or failure. 



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