While a program is defined as a predetermined group of projects that are related and are managed as one big task (in order to earn profits for the organization), a project is more or less temporary in nature that is undertaken to get specified results in given time along with constraints of cost and quality. Though they look similar, there are many points of difference that are as follows.
First major difference pertains to the objective of a project in comparison to the objective of a program. In a project, the manager knows the output he has to achieve; they are tangible, and can be described easily in words. One can measure the progress of a project, which is why the outputs are referred to as objectives. On the other hand, there are outcomes, and not outputs in case of a program, and even these are subjective and hard to quantify. Scope is vaguely defined in case of program, and can change as per the whims of managers during implementation of the program. On the other hand, the scope of a project is clear cut and demarcated, and cannot be changed during the life of the project.
Another differentiating factor is the duration. While projects are shorter in time period and typically finish in a few months time, programs are longer and can take upto three years. Whether a project or a program, there are always risks associated. But, whereas it is easier to identify and manage risks in a project, a manager in charge of a program finds it more difficult to assess risks involved, and cost incurred is greater in case of a failure of a program because of risk, than in case of a project. Failure in case of a program has greater ramifications for the organization.
If we talk about the problem and its solution from the perspective of a project, we see that while the problem is clearly defined, solutions to the problem are small in number. On the contrary, problem is vaguely defined in case of a program and it is seen that there are differences of perception in stakeholders pertaining to the nature of problem. However, there is greater number of solutions despite differences persisting between stakeholders as which one is the preferred solution.