Here are a few helpful tips for understanding how Marketo programs work.
The program name is the most flexible part of a program since it can be changed at any time. A good naming convention will make it easier to filter your programs in RCE reporting.
The channel is used as a filter in reporting and is the most inflexible part of a program. You should choose wisely when creating a program because once a program has members you have to remove them to change the channel.
Membership and the membership date are set when a program status or acquisition is set. If you set a record to a status of "Not in Program", the membership date is cleared. The membership date can't be reset which will mess up reporting.
Acquisition and acquisition date are set automatically when a record fills out a Marketo form on a Marketo landing page or you choose the acquisition program when you import a list. Marketo will automatically set the record to the first program status in your channel. Setting acquisition is critical for acquisition attribution reporting. There are many cases where the acquisition program is not automatically set and you will need to use a smart campaign to do it. Here is article about when to set acquisition.
Program statuses are used to define which stage each record is in. Records may have only one status at a time. A record which has any status in a program is considered a member of the program. Records which have attained a meaningful interaction should be considered a “Success” in the program. Once you set a record to a program status which equals success the success date is also set. The success date is important for determining success attribution.
So when you set a program status for the first time which is not a success step, membership and membership date are also set. When you set a program status for the first time which is a success step the following are set: membership, membership date and success date. When a new record is created and acquisition is set and the first status in your program is not a success step the following are set: acquisition, acquisition date, program status, membership and membership date. Finally, when a new record is created and acquisition is set and the first status in your program is a success step the following are set: acquisition, acquisition date, program status, membership, membership date and success date.
I hope this article better explains how programs work.