project program portfolio

3 Key Differences Between Project Program & Portfolio Management

There is a difference between Project, Program and Portfolio but many people use these terms interchangeably in day to day conversations.

Different companies use these terms differently. Many people within the same company use them differently. Usually, there is confusion around the meaning of these term. Each of these terms have a distinct meaning & significance and they should be used appropriately.

I have written this post to define and differentiate between Project, Program and Portfolio management. I have explained the importance of these terms from an Organizational Management perspective. In this post, you will find a couple of examples to help you understand the terminology. You will also find a brief explanation of roles of Project, Program and Portfolio Mangers in this post.

Project, Program and Portfolio are common day to day English words with simple meanings. We use these words regularly without even realizing it. Let’s look at a few examples from our day to day life.

  • Project – My New Year resolution for this year is to attain the PMP certification within next two months.
  • Program – Our company has started a social program to provide good healthcare in villages. We are coordinating with different governmental and non-governmental organizations.
  • Portfolio – I have an investment portfolio of stocks and mutual funds. It will enable me to meet my life objectives.

You can also look at the following video to understand the difference.

Difference between Project, Program And Portfolio

Definitions

Project

A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.

PMBOK Guide

project vs program vs portfolio

Project Management includes, among many other things, balancing the project constraints. These constraints include, but are not limited to, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Risk, and Resources.

You can also refer to Max Wideman Glossary to read some other standard definitions of Project.

Program

Related projects, subsidiary programs, and program activities that are managed in a coordinated manner to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually.

PMBOK Guide

project vs program vs portfolio management

The projects within a program share a goal. They are related to each other because of the shared program goal. If all the projects within the program are not successful, the final goal of a program is either not met or partially met.

Each project in a program creates a unique product, service or a result. Outcome (product, service or result) of one project may be used by the other projects within the same program. These outcomes collectively contribute towards the shared program goal.

Program Management involves coordination among the constituent projects so as to obtain the benefits that might not be obtained if they are managed individually. Program Management may also involve completing some work that is outside the scope of individual projects.

You can also refer to Max Wideman Glossary to read some other standard definitions of Program.

Note: Related projects may or may not be similar. Similarity may come from deploying same/similar technology, using shared resources, working for the same client etc. If the projects are similar but not related, then they should be managed as part of a Portfolio.

Portfolio

Projects, programs, subsidiary portfolios, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives.

PMBOK Guide

project vs program vs portfolio manager

Portfolio is a collection of projects programs and operational work. The projects and programs within a portfolio are not related to each other. The constituents of a portfolio are used to fulfill strategic business objectives of an organization. Strategic business objectives could include maximization of profits, building brand & reputation, reducing overall costs, and optimization of resource usage. Portfolios are aligned to the business and industrial domain of an organization.

You can also refer to Max Wideman Glossary to read some other standard definitions of Portfolio.

Industry Examples

Consumer Durable Company

A consumer durable company is in the business of design, development, marketing, and servicing consumer products like refrigerators, washing machines, air-conditioners (AC) etc.

Portfolio Management – The Company, itself, is the largest portfolio. Different divisions like Refrigerator Division, Washing Machine Division and AC Division would be sub-portfolios. Each sub-portfolio would be headed by a Division Head like a Vice President. The portfolio and sub-portfolios will have running programs, projects and operations.

Program Management – Each division within the company would have several running programs e.g. Launch a new line of refrigerators. This program could involve several projects e.g. a design project (refrigerator design), a manufacturing project (setting up refrigerator manufacturing), a marketing project, a servicing project (training post-sales servicing personnel) etc. The projects within the program might be executed at different times by a different set of people but they will be governed by the larger shared goal of “making the new line of refrigerators successful”.

Project Management – The Company would have several running projects at any given point in time. These project may or may not be part of a program e.g an IT project to implement a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software may not be part of any program.

Real Estate Company

A real estate company is in the business of constructing buildings and performing related work to fulfill the unmet public demand.

Portfolio Management – The Company, itself, is the largest portfolio. Different divisions like Commercial Division and Residential Division would be sub-portfolios. Commercial Portfolio could include construction of malls, shopping complexes, and office buildings while Residential Portfolio could include construction of residential buildings, and row houses. Each sub-portfolio would be headed by a Division Head like a Vice President. The portfolio and sub-portfolios will have running programs, projects and operations.

Program Management – Each division within the company would have several running programs e.g. a Residential Township at location X. This program could involve several projects e.g. construction of row houses, construction of a multi-storied residential building, construction of a club house, landscaping project, marketing project etc. The projects within the program might be executed at different times by a different set of people but they will be governed by the larger shared goal of “making the township successful & livable”.

Project Management – The Company would have several running projects at any given point in time. These project may or may not be part of a program e.g a procurement optimization project to reduce material procurement costs may not be part of any program.

Comparing Project, Program And Portfolio Management

ProjectProgramPortfolio
Keywords
  • Temporary
  • Unique
  • Related projects
  • Shared goal
  • Collection of Project, Programs and Operations
  • Strategic business objectives
Major Tasks
  • Identifying project requirements
  • Managing stakeholders
  • Completing project scope
  • Balancing project constraints
  • Coordination among related projects
  • Controlling inter-dependencies among related projects
  • Selection of right programs and projects
  • Prioritization of work
  • Optimization of organizational cost, resources etc.
  • Maximization of organizational profits
Benefits
  • Final product, service or result
  • Meeting the program goal
  • Organizational benefits like reduction in costs, increase in profits, and a good return on investments

By now you would have understood the meaning and finer differences between the main terms. The role of a manager is related to the tasks expected from her/him. Just notice the major tasks written in the table above. The role of respective managers is to complete these tasks.

Over To You

What is your take on these terms? How do you use them in your organization? Do you use them differently?

I would love to hear from you.

18 thoughts on “3 Key Differences Between Project Program & Portfolio Management”

  1. Program means group of related projects as mentioned in PMBOK 6. However, in the flowchart in the same chapter , it is shown that operations also part of program. Can we conclude that program means group of related projects & operations ?

    Ashvini

    Reply
  2. Programs may include some operational work to support the projects under the program. But, these (program) operations are not managed by program team.

    BR, Praveen.

    Reply
  3. Thanks for your inputs.1 example I think of is logistics or order fulfillment team who delivers the material or products at the project site for installation & commissioning work.
    However,this may be applicable to standalone project also where similar operational work is needed.

    Reply
  4. Dear Praveen Malik ,thank you very much.It is an awesome justification.I have great gratitude for effort and consideration.It is very useful professional illustration.

    Reply

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