Projects and Programs: Aircraft and Airports
By asparks on Oct 01, 2008
On several occasions recently I have had to help customers come to terms with their project lifestyle choice and convince them of the values of program management.
In describing the difference between projects and programs I find it pays to use language the business folks readily understand. My favorite way is to use a metaphor.
Managing a project is like flying an aircraft. Managing a program is like running an airport.
Projects, like aircraft, come in all sizes: big and small. Depending on size you may have more (or less) people and technology onboard to help you with the flight. Unfortunately when you crash, the bigger you are the more people can get hurt (including you sometimes).
Programs are more like airports, with aircraft (projects) taking off and landing all the time. But you have a lot of supporting organization and infrastructure to look after as well.
I find the metaphor works very well to draw attention to the unifying purpose of programs as well as their open-ended nature. What do you think?
In any event it pays to remember this truism from the world of aviation: “When a flight is proceeding incredibly well, something was forgotten.” For more wisdom consider these other flying truisms.
Of course to the purist PM’s out there who might be offended by such a simple comparison, here are the formal PMI PMBOK definitions:
Project. A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.
Program. A group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Programs may include elements of related work outside of the scope of the discrete projects in the program.
Think about it when considering all of parallel initiatives you or your customer is trying to manage. Maybe is it is time to consider a program to get to grips with the project lifestyle.
I’m happy to take comments, as ever. Here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org