A typology of meanings: Practitioners views of ‘program’

Stephen Keith McGrath, Stephen Jonathan Whitty


Previous published work has identified confusion in the definition of the term program. This paper reports on a study investigating the understanding of program terminology within a sample of experienced management and project management practitioners across a range of industries and disciplines. The study was conducted in Australia which is subject to influence by both USA and British practice, without being constrained to favour either, but where any inconsistencies between these influences are potentially problematic. The outcome was that confusion on this issue was found within the practitioner community. Furthermore, this confusion had developed into competition between fields over exclusive usage of the term to the extent that one organization had even attempted to resolve it by attributing different meanings to the two different nationality spellings of the term. No common understanding or definition of the term was articulated and there was contention over whether a program has to be transformational to be labelled as such. The boundaries with the terms project and portfolio were also unclear. The existence of these inconsistencies indicates there is a need for an internally consistent set of definitions of project, program and portfolio to be agreed and adopted across the whole project management field.


program management; programme management; project management; transformation; benefits realisation; change management; portfolio management


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