What Is a Program

What Is a Program

Like a project, and frequently confused with it, is the program. Though many people refer to these interchangeably, the disparities are usually of scale. Let's look at a few existing definitions as we did for project.

Kerzner describes a program as: the necessary first-level elements of a system (in the context of systems theory); a time-phased subsystem; and, borrowing from NASA, a relative series of undertakings that continue over a period of time (normally years), and that are designed to accomplish a broad technical or scientific goal in the long range plan.

Don Shafer, in lectures to The University of Texas at Austin's Software Quality Institute, has defined a program as usually a large endeavor, encompassing a broad goal, which can be composed of a number of projects; for instance, the U.S. space program (manned - Gemini, moon lander, space shuttle, orbital lab, etc.).

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) certifies software quality engineers by way of a Certified Software Quality Engineer (CSQE) exam. The Quality Council of Indiana publishes an introductory book for the exam (the CSQE Primer) that defines a program to be a group of related projects managed to obtain collective benefits, often with a strategic goal, which may involve a series of repetitive or cyclical undertakings.

PMI succinctly states: A program is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way. Programs usually include an element of ongoing activity.

These definitions agree that a program is:

Large. Programs are usually larger than projects and are often composed of projects.

Lengthy. Programs usually span long time periods and extend beyond the time spans of projects.

General. Programs may have only "ballpark" ending dates and objectives defined for them. Often the objective for the program is very broad, such as you would find in a class of software product.

So, our definition becomes: A program is a large, lengthy endeavor with indistinct ending dates and objectives, composed of related projects, managed cooperatively.


software quality, software product, pmi
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