Have you ever thought that your project would be a program? “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” [Bernard Baruch]. Is your problem a nail or a screw? Is it possible that you see your needs as a project because you know about project management? According with the PMBoK© of the PMI®, a big project can be divided into sub-projects. According to “The Standard of Program Management”© of the PMI®, a program is a “group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually”. I think that sometimes to manage related “components” as a project or as a program is simply a decision. You can manage them in both manners, but this will probably be the most important decision you will take in the process and it is going to significantly increase or decrease your probabilities of success.
In Program Management there are “components” that can be “projects” or other kinds of work, like “ongoing services”. If you need to manage something that can’t be defined as a project because of its continuous nature, then you don’t have a big project, you have a program.
In Program Management you decide to start components if some conditions are satisfied. You are not going to start to build something that nobody can maintain or operate. In Program Management this is always an explicit concern and in Project Management it depends on the project plan. If you need to review the start and finish of components according to superior reasons, you probably have a Program.
In Program Management the promise to the sponsors and stakeholders is more related with benefits than scope. Of course a program has a scope but the emphasis is put on benefits instead of scope. If your promise sounds like “give dwelling to a hundred people” and you are designing a solution for that; or your promise sounds like “generate green energy in an innovative way” and you are visiting innovative facilities in order to decide, then you probably have a program, not a project.
Many Programs are reviewed in decision gates every year and receive new funds after that revision. That’s why a Program manager needs to be prepared for regular auditing processes. If the Program is still useful and is creating benefits, it is probably going to be extended. This seems opposed to the definition of project, however, it is very common in Program Management.
It’s sad to say that I often see managers fail trying to manage programs as if they were projects. I hope you have seen this article before you have to choose and decide wether you need a hammer or a screwdriver.