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Notes on programs vs. standalone projects

FEATURED PAPER

By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia
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ABSTRACT

This paper discusses some similarities and differences between programs and ‘standalone’ projects. A distinction is first made between standalone projects, and projects which are components of a program – ‘component’ projects. The paper is

concerned only with the former.

Regarding similarities, it is shown that both programs and standalone projects have been depicted on an equal footing in organizational strategic program/project portfolios. Additionally, both cover the whole of the life cycle from concept through delivery.

We then look at an apparent contradiction in distinguishing between the two. The question, “Can a single project be called a program?” leads to a discussion about similarities and differences in the management coordination of component entities of programs, and of standalone projects. This question does not appear to have been comprehensively addressed in the literature. We first look at an example from the literature of activities involved in the coordinated management of programs, and find that they appear to have direct counterparts in the coordinated management of standalone projects. On the other hand, some significant differences are also identified from the literature. From this sampling, it appears that there are both significant similarities and differences in coordinating processes in the program and standalone project domains. Two other types of differences between programs and standalone projects are also identified.

It is concluded that, whilst there are substantial differences between programs and standalone projects, there are also substantial similarities, and that the latter deserve more recognition in the literature than they currently enjoy.

INTRODUCTION

The importance of distinguishing between standalone and component projects

In an earlier paper in this Journal (Stretton 2012e) I discussed the importance of distinguishing between standalone projects and a program’s component projects. This is particularly important when comparisons are made between programs and projects. There are many such comparisons in the literature, but in most cases these comparisons are between programs and component projects. This paper is specifically concerned with comparisons between programs and standalone projects.

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About the Author

Alan Stretton, PhD    

Faculty Corps, University of Management

and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA)

Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)

Alan Stretton is one of the pioneers of modern project management.  He is currently a member of the Faculty Corps for the University of Management & Technology (UMT), USA.  In 2006 he retired from a position as Adjunct Professor of Project Management in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia, which he joined in 1988 to develop and deliver a Master of Project Management program.   Prior to joining UTS, Mr. Stretton worked in the building and construction industries in Australia, New Zealand and the USA for some 38 years, which included the project management of construction, R&D, introduction of information and control systems, internal management education programs and organizational change projects.  He has degrees in Civil Engineering (BE, Tasmania) and Mathematics (MA, Oxford), and an honorary PhD in strategy, programme and project management (ESC, Lille, France).  Alan was Chairman of the Standards (PMBOK) Committee of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) from late 1989 to early 1992.  He held a similar position with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and was elected a Life Fellow of AIPM in 1996.  He was a member of the Core Working Group in the development of the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management.  He has published over 100 professional articles.  Alan can be contacted at [email protected].