A common quesiton I’m often asked is “What’s the difference between a program and a project?” or “What’s the difference between a program manager and a project manager?”

And although nobody has ever asked the question here on this blog it goes through my mind every time I write on the subject of managing projects or product releases. My official title is Principal Technical Program Manager, but I really think of myself as a project manager. Everything I work on is a project of one sort or another and my job is to move those projects forward.

There are many technical definitions here and people often like to geek out on different terms. I don’t really care.

Technically a project is an effort that has a fixed duration and then it is over. For example, an IT department might have a project to install a new ERP system. Once the project is over (though anyone who has worked on an ERP projects knows, they are never over) the project is complete.

A program usually refers to a series of ongoing projects or product release cycles. And so a program manger is usually responsible for multiple programs or ongoing projects. This is very common in software development where a product goes through multiple development and release cycles. And so this ongoing process is referred to as a program because it is ongoing, instead of a project that has a definite beginning and end.

For the purposes of the things I write here, I intentionally take on the generic term “project manager” because I think it is a term that is more familiar to people.