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May 13

Program, Programme, Project. What’s the difference in Jira?

The good news is that ‘Program’ and ‘Project’ means the same for 80% of Jira users. However, since these separate terms exist, let’s look closer at how they differ from each other for the remaining 20 per cent of the project management world.

Let’s start with the rationale behind three different terms being in circulation:

  • business and technical terminology exists. What is a ‘program’ for a software developer (technical term), means ~a ‘project’ for a project manager (business term).
  • Atlassian had put aside the term ‘project’ back in 2000s for ‘a group of tasks’ in Jira. Whereas in business terminology a ‘project’ means more than that, namely tasks + resources + time.
Jira project program

Jira thinks ‘Projects”, while BigPicture thinks ‘Programs’. In many cases the terms overlap to a large extent.

Jira terminology Business terminology
(Jira) project

Why Project = Program more often than not?

Reason 1

In the business world there is this project-centric approach to stuff. In PRINCE methodology, for example, things begin with business cases (ideas), then they transform into projects  and then they become products.

business case > project > product

So, no reference to programs. It comes as no surprise that for a PRINCE project manager using Jira it seems legit to think ‘projects’, not ‘programs’.

Reason 2

80% of real-life projects are unrelated to each other. Within organization X they could have a project 1, project 2 and project 3. These projects could have separate goals, teams, tasks, resources and timing, making the projects unrelated.

When does Program ≠ Project?

Still there are cases when a Program means something very different than a Project, namely several related projects.

Example 1

A new privacy regulation is coming into force and a FMCG corporation needs to conform its operations until a certain date. They could launch the “Privacy” program in Jira BigPicture and have the project 1 for their operations department, project 2 for R&D, project 3 for aftersales and then several more projects for individual European country markets, all the projects related to the new privacy law and binded into a program.

Example 2

Olympic Games were awarded to a city in the U.S. That city or region could have a BigPicture program in place with related projects: project 1 – stadiums, project 2 – new roads, project 3 – marketing, etc.

Programme vs. Program

The two are more less equal. ‘Programme’ is a business term, while ‘Program’ is rather used by Jira project management plugins, such as BigPicture.

How special is a BigPicture program

Programs in Jira BigPicture are sometimes described as “projects + JQL filters”. This has the roots in the fact that in BigPicture you can create a program by arbitrarily selecting tasks from various Jira projects using JQL filters. You could ask “Can I be so selective and include fragments of projects in a program?”. The answer is “Yes” – you won’t break the rules since Jira projects mean something quite different than business projects, and I explained that difference in the “rationale” section at the top of the article.

BigPicture program manager

Since BigPicture offers the Gantt chart (~timeline), and the resource module, among others, it’s legitimate to say that the BigPicture program can function as a business project. Pictured is BigPicture program manager.


About The Author

With his automotive background Marcin goes beyond the 'Jira + software development' standard. He likes simple, up-to-five-sentence answers to complex questions.