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CAN Projects be programmes and programmes be Projects? What are the benefits of using a project management methodology?

Projects and programmes are arguably the most terms used interchangeably with no recourse on their implied semantics. In our discussion this week we look at the meaning of project s and programmes and when to use them in organisations.

They have definitely some commonalities and also some specifics attributed to each. What makes Projects and programmes similar is that they both can be characterised as temporary organisational endeavours meaning that they both have a start date and end date.

They both have uncertainties or risks associated with their intended goals and objectives. They both involve utilisation of resources which may be cross functional in nature and both can be used as a vehicle to introduce positive change in organisations and societies.

So what makes projects and programmes different? Is it that projects are managed by project managers and programmes are managed by programme managers?

Well, I wouldn’t say so because I have seen on several occasions Project managers managing programmes and programme managers managing projects.

So what is the difference or is it that the difference is the same? No I don’t think so either so let’s look at some definitions of project and programme.

Best practice standards PMBOK®  guide defines a project as a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product or service and a programme as related projects, subsidiary programmess and programme activities managed in a coordinated manner to obtain benefits not available from managing the individually.

Axelos PRINCE2®  and Managing Successful Programmes (MSP)®  defines a project as a A project is a temporary organisation that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case and  a programme as a temporary flexible organisation structure created to
co-ordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to the organisation’s strategic objectives.

A programme is likely to have a life that spans several years.” Some of the key difference can be summarised as:

Now that we have seen some definitions, similarities and differences, let’s look at when to use project or programme management. When is there a need for project management? In today’s competitive world of rapid technological changes, there is need for organisations to develop and implement new strategies to update their products and services in order to

  • Maintain organisation competitive advantage
  • Comply with new rules and regulations
  • Respond to customers’ needs and expectations

In order to achieve the above, organiaations need to be forward looking and adopt a project management methodology to develop and execute corporate strategy.

The cost associated to not adopting a proven best practice project management methodology often results in

  • Weak corporate vision
  • Failed project business case
  • Failed project execution
  • Failed project implementation

Let’s elaborate a little bit more on the above weaknesses. A weak vision implies that a company or organisation has lack of direction and it is not able to respond the changes in the market.

A failed project business case means that a company sticks to the original business case though the market needs have changed and fails to respond appropriately leaving them obsolete project even before the project comes to an end.

Failed project execution implies that a company that is not able to produce products efficiently and effectively. They are examples of companies who develop nice innovative corporate strategies but fail to implement them effectively.

Failed project implementation refers to a company that develops a clear vision, customer needs analysis with a good business case but fails to implement the project into the market in order derive envisaged benefits.

The understanding is that all the above weaknesses could be mitigated if companies and organisations adopt and embed proven project management standards and methodologies like for a example PMI® PMBOK® guide or PRINCE2® and MSP®.

Other frameworks like Agile project management can also help to mitigate corporate strategy failures.

Programme management is also suitable for business transformation and political societal change, being an approach designed to accommodate high levels of complexity ambiguity and risk.

Adopting a programme approach is not necessary where something new is delivered within the existing business model. Incremental improvements to an existing product or service would not normally warrant a programme management approach.

Programme management may also be not suitable to be used just for the sole purpose of prioritising projects. Programme management is suitable to be used in organisations planning to cater for leading and managing corporate transformational change in order to implement the strategic plan.

This article was written by Dr Laban Mwansa, MSP®, PMP®, PRINCE2® Practitioner, Agile®, Laban is a consultant and trainer in project management and specifically trainer/coach in PMP®, PRINCE2® Practitioner, and PRINCE2 Agile® in Zambia, South Africa and Europe for many years. He was in the executive committee of ICTAZ as technical chair. He is also the managing partner of Betaways Innovation Systems and can be reached at:, +260975280392 or WhatsApp +27817029669. He is also a professional member of PMSA and PMI-USA.

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