Drawing a Line Between a Project and a Programme

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A dictionary definition of a project is an individual or collaborative enterprise planned and designed to achieve an aim. A programme, on the other hand, is defined as a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing the projects individually. Essentially, a programme is made up of multiple projects.

Let’s look at a few differences in more detail.

  1. Project Outputs are usually tangible. They’re relatively easy to describe, define and measure. Programme Outcomes are often intangible. They’re difficult to quantify and benefits are often based on changes to organisational culture and behaviors.
  2. In terms of scope, projects are strictly limited. Programmes are flexible and likely to change during the life cycle.
  3. Projects are temporary and usually last for a very short period of time, while programmes relatively last longer.
  4. Project risk is relatively easy to identify and manage. The project failure would result in relatively limited impact on the organisation relative to program risk. Program risk is more complex and potentially the impact on the organisation if a risk materialises will be greater relative to project risk.
  5. Programme failure could result in material financial, reputational, or operational loss. Projects are usually necessitated by a clearly defined problem.
  6. The nature of a problem that gives rise to programmes is usually complex with little consensus among stakeholders on the nature and definition of the problem. The environment within which the project takes place is understood and relatively stable, while programmes operate in a dynamic environment.
  7. Programme objectives need to be managed in the context of the changing environment within which the organisation operates. 
  8. Resources required to deliver the project can be reasonably estimated in advance, while Resources for programmes are constrained and limited. Another setback for programmes is that there usually is competition for resources between projects.