Relating Portfolios, Programs and Projects

While projects, programs and portfolios are closely related, they are not the same thing. Portfolios are defined as collections of components grouped together to facilitate effective management of the work to meet strategic business objectives. The components found in a portfolio might include projects, programs, ongoing maintenance, and daily operations in an organization.

In contrast, programs are a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Programs may include elements of ongoing organizational work outside the scope of the program’s projects, such as maintenance or operations efforts.  Projects are defined as temporary endeavors that are undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.  

Portfolios are closer to the organization’s business objectives, and may consist of programs, projects or both.  Programs consist of projects and possibly other non-project work.  So both a program and a portfolio can contain projects.  An operation is not part of a project, but parts of operations may be included in programs.

Portfolios, programs and projects help organizations address the need for change by creating and launching strategic business initiatives using portfolios, programs and projects to deliver the end results, building programs to achieve selected strategic objectives and initiating constituent projects within the program to deliver the program benefits and capabilities by producing specific project deliverables.

Managing portfolios, programs and projects involves different perspectives and different skill sets. Portfolio management involves identifying, authorizing, managing, and controlling a portfolio to achieve strategic business objectives. Program management  is the centralized coordinated management of a program to achieve the program’s strategic benefits and objectives. Project management is where you apply the knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the defined project requirements.

Each level of management has its own governance domain with associated roles and responsibilities. As you may have noticed, smaller companies may combine or eliminate levels of management. When we talk about operations management, it focuses on things like Finance, Marketing, HR, and IT.  Here is one view of how the levels of management fit together and what their primary focus might be:

  • Executive management: Focused on the organization’s strategic  plan.
  • Portfolio management: Focused on achieving the organization’s strategic objectives.
  • Program management: Focused on realizing the organization’s benefit expectations.
  • Project management: Focused on delivering specific project deliverables.
  • Operations management: Focused on ongoing, repetitive day-to-day activities of the organization.

Well, there’s a quick look at the many levels of management we see in our organizations and how they might relate to one another. Program managers, learn more about preparing for your PgMP certification exam with Learning Tree’s course:  Preparing for the Program Management Professional (PgMP)® Exam.

Susan Weese

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