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By Denis G.

3 minutes

What is a Program?

If you’re already a Program Manager then this is a question you no doubt get asked frequently by your friends and family. I for one certainly get asked this all the time. However, if you are new to program management then you may well be wondering exactly what a Program is, and this is what I hope this article will explain.

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a Program is defined as “A group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually”.

This definition will probably make perfect sense if you’re a seasoned Program Manager; however, if you’re new to program management it might not be too clear, so let’s look at a factitious example program to see the benefits of programs. This example is one I use all the time when explaining to friends and family exactly what a program is and what a program manager does.

Imagine a bank which wishes to launch a new credit card, which for this example we will call The Purple Card…

Think of all the things which might need to happen to make this a success?

  • The Purple Card needs to be manufactured and sent to new customers on demand
  • The IT systems need to change to handle the new card
  • A marketing campaign would need to happen to attract new customers from our target market. This could involve TV adverts, newspaper adverts, and even Internet advertising. If the Purple Card was to be launched in multiple countries then it’s no difficult to imagine how the marketing campaign could get complicated quickly. Different campaigns would be needed in different countries to account of different cultures.
  • Legal Council would be required to advise on Legal issues, and produce and necessary Terms and Conditions. Again this can be complex if we wished to launch in multiple countries.
  • Customer Care would need to trained (and even hired) to support the card when it launches
  • Similarly, Technical Support would need to be trained, ready for when the card launched. They might deal with technical problems associated with performing actions on user’s accounts online
  • Management Information systems need to be ready to measure the success of the new card.
  • If the card were to be launched globally then some form of logistics may also be needed.
  • The bank had physical branches, then the staff need to be trained to sell and offer advice on the new card

As you can see, there are a lot of things which need to happen to successfully introduce our Purple Card to the marketplace, and I probably haven’t included them all. Imagine the chaos if all these teams we’re not coordinated! In our example, a program would coordinate all the above teams to successfully launch the card in the marketplace.

What is a Program?

The Program Manager is the person who would manage this coordination between the above teams to ensure a successful product, along with managing any ancillary information needed, such as the business case. I hope this article has helped you understand exactly what a program is, and will help you explain to your firends and family exactly what a program is. In the next article we will dive into exactly what tasks the Program Manager role performs.

* Image by Luc Galoppin

Cite this article

Minute Tools Content Team, What is a Program?, Minute Tools, May, 2009,
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Denis G.

Originally hailing from Dublin, Denis has always been interested in all things business and started EPM in 2009. Before EPM, Denis held a leadership position at Nokia, owned a sports statistics business, and was a member of the PMI's (Project Management Institute’s) Global Executive Council for two years. Denis now spends his days helping others understand complex business topics.

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