Project Management

3 Types of programme cost (that are not project costs)

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from

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I’ve been managing a programme for a while now, and it’s quite different from managing projects, or the very large projects that we call programmes that are really not programmes!

Programmes need their own budget as well as the budget of the projects, and here are the things I think should be included in that.

program costs

1. Costs of running the programme

It seems silly to point it out explicitly, but there are costs incurred from running a programme with a programme management structure.

For example, my time as programme manager needs to be costed and included along with any support resource from the programme office. Even though we are not full-time, the programme wouldn’t run without us so our costs have to go somewhere.

Ideally, there would also be a programme-level risk budget for handling unforeseen issues.

You may also find that on your programme there are other costs associated with running the programme, such as office space, software licences for third parties to access your programme management software (which is likely to be the same project management software everyone else uses, so hopefully not too large of an overhead there).

2. Assurance costs

Are you planning on having internal (or external) audits and reviews as part of the programme? If so, those costs should be picked up by the programme budget.

Internal reviews, in my experience, don’t cost anything except time, but if you are bringing in consultants or external auditors, there is definitely a cost associated with that (as well as time). Certification or compliance programmes may have extra costs here too, for example, if you have to comply to certain standards, going through the accreditation process is both time-consuming and normally costs something. There’s also often an annual cost to main the accreditation so factor that in too if your programme is multi-year.

Plan all those costs into the programme budget at the frequency and estimate required.

3. Benefits realisation costs

Benefits might be realised at project level, but you’ll likely have some programme benefits to track as well. And the cost of delivering and tracking those should be included somewhere – in your programme budget.

For example, you may need to programme software to create new reports. You may need a new role, and someone hired to go into that role. Some benefits might include making staff redundant due to organisational restructure, and there are costs associated with that activity too.

Plan all of those in at programme level. You may find that it’s useful to take the project-level benefits realisation costs into the programme budget as well so you can track benefits all in one place, but that’s up to you.

Project costs

Of course, there are costs to running the projects too, and in your overall programme budget, you’ll want visibility of those for forecasting and tracking. But these are the ‘obvious’ costs so it’s likely you already have them.

The project costs would normally include the large infrastructure type items that are necessary for the programme to move forward. The first project would normally take the hit for any large infrastructure-type investment, but that makes the business case for that project rather wobbly. You might decide that large capital costs are picked up by the programme as an overhead instead, and then each project goes forward on its own merit without having to fund the infrastructure required to make it and future projects work.

Talk to your financial analyst or project accountant for how best to apportion the costs across the programme and projects so it’s transparent and reasonable.

Posted on: April 23, 2024 08:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Kwiyuh Michael Wepngong Financial Management Specialist | US Peace Corps / Cameroon Yaounde, Centre, Cameroon
Thanks, Elizabeth,
Integrating programme cost is something we do but not on all our projects... so complicated to catch and capture all these costs

AHMED KASSEM Senior Project Manager, PMP??, MBA| GE Vernova
thanks Elizabeth

Thanks for sharing elizabeth. This blog makes all the more sense when you work for a commercial airline and struggle on how best to apportion costs across programme and short term aviation projects, while also trying to keep it all transparant for the auditors.

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