Program management is the art of managing an effort of multiple projects with multiple deliverables.
If you google “Program Management,” you'll see a bunch of interesting posts, including Chris Pratley's Program Management. To me, Chris is describing project management, albeit of a large project. When Chris talks about his “program” management, he's discussing the coordination of a single product's release. When I talk about program management, I'm discussing how to coordinate multiple product releases, with people who perform project management managing their piece or release. Take a look at Program Management Definitions for their discussion of how to define program management. (Yes, I realize one of their definitions is the large project with sub-projects. I still think that real program management involves multiple deliverables.)
Multiple deliverables and their tradeoffs are the major problems of program management. Program managers coordinate the work of many people, projects, and deliverables (and they should all read Frank's excellent Multi-Project Management with TOC). They use negotiation and influencing techniques to facilitate the work across the organization. Program managers need to understand enough about the product (solution-space domain expertise) to make sure the technical decisions don't negatively affect the company's strategy. (If one project makes a decision that prevents another project from meeting its release date, that's a negative affect.) One of my clients once told me program management was like grease and glue: grease to ease the way for different parts of the company to succeed, and glue to bring everything together.
Even if you're managing projects to one deliverable, you may already be using program management techniques. If you're managing to multiple deliverables, make sure you use program management techniques, including: working across the organization, solving problems outside of meetings, making sure each project's goals are defined, making sure each project's staff are working towards those goals, and creating a real program team. The program team needs a reason to consider each other's concerns (it's that grease thing again).
I've been waiting for Christian to write about the differences between project and program management, and I just couldn't wait anymore. Sorry Christian, I started 🙂