Two broad dimensions of program management


By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia


This short paper briefly discusses two broad dimensions of program management. One is the internally-focused dimension of coordinating the program’s related projects, which I have called the “internal linkage dimension” (or more simply the” internal dimension”). This dimension is not presented as a distinctive subject in the literature, but it appears to be important enough to warrant more specific attention than it currently receives. It is planned to discuss inter-project coordination in more detail in a later paper.

The other dimension is what I have called the “external linkage dimension” (or more simply “external dimension”), which is particularly concerned with organizational, business or societal change, strategic management, external stakeholders, delivering benefits, etc. The external dimension of program management is already well covered in the literature, albeit with somewhat different emphases by different writers.


When program management focuses on the coordination of related projects, project management methodologies are applicable to the management of a program. On the other hand, when the focus of change is on business or society, or where complexity increases, program managers need a good understanding of strategic management and organisational change.                                                      (Thiry 2010:21)

This paper discusses the two different “focuses” of program management in the above quotation from Thiry 2010 (which are also reflected by some other writers on program management). We start with some definitions.

Definitions of programs/program management.

Whilst there has been substantial agreement about the nature of projects for some time, agreement about the nature of programs has been slower to emerge. In 2006, Maylor et al summarised the position as follows:

An emerging definition of a programme appears to involve the co-ordinated management of a series of inter-connected projects and other non-project work for the delivery of a specific package of benefits.

The definition of program in PMI 2008b is much the same.

A program is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually.

Thiry 2010:14-16 discusses some of the mainstream definitions of programs/ program management, and suggests the following definition:

A program is a collection of change actions (projects and operational activities) purposely grouped together to realise […] benefits ….

The lead quote (in italics above) might suggest that program management has an option of focusing either on the coordination of related projects, (which I will call the “internal dimension”), or on change outcomes in business or society (the “external dimension”). Of course the reality is that that program management is strongly concerned with managing both the internal and external dimensions.


To read entire paper (click here)

About the Author

alan-strettonflag-australiaAlan 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].