Exploring the Differences Between a Project and a Program

Understand the differences between managing stakeholders and communication plans in projects vs. programs.

For stakeholder management and communication plans, as with most key areas of management, the difference between managing a project and a program is about scale. In a program, the number of stakeholders increases, and that means that the number of concurrent communication plans that are being utilized increases. Instead of a single stand-up, we may have at least one per project; the same goes for status reports and possibly MBRs, depending on the complexity of the project.

This isn’t to say that we, as the TPM running the program, are directly responsible for each of these communications, but we are accountable to them. If a project is falling behind on statuses, or the TPM isn’t meeting with stakeholders enough to keep them in the loop, as the program manager, we are accountable for keeping the project TPM on track. Luckily, there are some additional tools we can use to help keep the program’s stakeholders happy and communications flowing freely.

Scheduling for natural accountability

In our communications plan, we stepped out the communication schedule to allow lower-level communications, such as a weekly status report, to flow into the MBR meeting. This reduces time spent running around to get up-to-date information. The same concept can be used at a program level; the level of status we care about will just start out at a higher level. Ensure each project’s MBR is published or takes place before the MBR for the program. If the project doesn’t need that level of visibility, then just ensure the weekly status reports are published on a day of the week that is earlier than the program MBR to give you adequate time to collate information. This may lead to a case where an issue’s status has changed between the status report and the MBR, in which case, updating the appropriate stakeholders outside of the planned communication schedule is important to ensure that there are no unexpected updates.

The same can be done at the program level, because the program’s status report will include details from each project, and ensuring the project status reports are sent out prior to the program one will ensure a natural flow of information.

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