The term program has been defined in many different ways. For example:
- “A temporary, flexible organisation structure created to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a set of related projects and activities in order to deliver outcomes and benefits related to an organisation’s strategic objectives; a programme is likely to have a life that spans several years.” (Managing Successful Programmes, UK Office of Government Commerce, 2007)
- “A programme is a set of related projects and organisational changes put in place to achieve a strategic goal and to deliver the benefits that the organisation expects.” (IPMA Competence Baseline, International Project Management Association, 2006)
- “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 the scope of the discrete projects in the program.” (The Standard for Program Management, Project Management Institute, 2008; adapted from The Handbook of Project-Based Management, Rodney Turner, 1992)
Other definitions of program tend to be conceptually similar to these three: all recognize that a program is expected to actually deliver benefits (rather than just create the potential for benefits), and all recognize the existence of multiple, discrete projects within a program.
The definitions are all close enough in meaning that it is not necessary to choose one in order to understand what a program is.
Some key characteristics of programs often vary considerably:
- Program manager’s authority to originate or terminate projects
- Degree of integration with the sponsoring organization
- How the sponsoring organization will evaluate the program manager’s performance
- Number of projects
- Interdependence of projects
- Similarity of technical disciplines
- How the program is initiated and the criteria for termination
To determine the impact of these differences, GAPPS developed a typology of programs.