Knowing When to Define a Program

Explore the factors of stakeholder engagement when choosing between a program and a project.

Choosing between program and project

As discussed earlier in this section, scope is the major differentiator between a program and a project. When your company’s projects are around half a year to a year in length, a program may be multiple years long. If projects are a few months long, a program may only last up to a year. In any case, though, they are relative to one another.

When you are faced with a set of requirements or goals and are trying to decide whether to spin up a project or a program, there are a few litmus tests you can do to see whether a program is the right fit:

  • Do you have multiple goals to achieve?

  • Is the timeline fixed or based on achieving the goals?

  • How many stakeholders are involved?

If you have multiple goals to achieve, then multiple projects, one or more per goal, would ensure clarity of purpose for each project. In this case, a program to manage these projects would make the most sense. To be clear, by multiple goals, we’re not referring to features or milestones but end goals.

If the goal you are trying to achieve has a deadline, this is often a reason for a focused project to drive toward the deadline. If you have multiple goals, and one is time-bound, a program with a project specifically for the time-bounded goal may be a good fit.

Lastly, if your goal spans multiple departments or organizations within your company, all driving toward the goal or goals, a program with projects per organization may be the most effective way to manage the large number of stakeholders. Each organization may have a succinct deliverable that contributes toward a goal.

Visualizing program and project boundaries

The figure below takes a close look at the company's organizational structure and how the Mercury program and the projects within relate to it:

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