Project vs program vs portfolio management

Project vs. program vs. portfolio management

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The field of project management has significantly evolved and expanded since its modern inception during the 1950s. To be specific, the emergence of related but different fields of program management and project portfolio management has changed the way organizations tackle and handle projects. This brief article discusses the difference between project management, program management, and project portfolio management.

What is the difference between project management, program management, and project portfolio management?

Understanding the difference between project management, program management, and project portfolio management is as simple as understanding the difference between a project, a program, and a project portfolio.

Based on industry standards, including professional organizations such as the Project Management Institute, a project is generally defined as a temporary activity intended to create a unique product or result.

A program, on the other hand, is essentially a group of related or interrelated projects, subprograms, and/or program activities. Project portfolio is a strategic collection of all projects and programs within an organization.

From the aforementioned definitions, take note of the subsequent definitions for project management, program management, and project portfolio management:

1. Project Management: Project management is a discipline and subfield of management concerned with the initiation, planning and design, execution, monitoring and control, and closing of an individual project. The primary challenge of project management is to accomplish all of the identified project goals and objectives within the given constraints.

2. Program Management: Program management or programme management is the process of managing multiple interdependent or interrelated projects and subprograms. The primary challenge of this discipline revolves around defining interfaces, aligning schedules, coordinating resources, managing risks, and promoting change management.

3. Project Portfolio management: Project portfolio management supersedes program management and project management within the organizational hierarchy. It is essentially involved with overseeing a collection of programs and projects. However, the primary challenge of project portfolio management is to ensure that all programs and projects are always aligned with the strategic objectives of the organization. Specifically, project portfolio management is concerned with selecting projects and programmes that are aligned with organizational strategies.

Examples of the difference between project management, program management, and project portfolio management

To understand further the difference between project management, program management, and project portfolio management, take note of the following examples:

1. Software development: The development of a software constitutes and individual project and its launching corresponds to another separate project. Collectively however, software development and product launching can be subjected under program management because both projects are interdependent. The development of related software, such as mobile games for example, can also be subjected under program management. All other projects within the firm can fall under project portfolio management nonetheless.

2. Oil production: Examples of individual projects within an oil company are oil exploration, oil drilling, and the construction of facilities. All of these projects can be subject under program management, especially if they share similar geographic and/or chronological characteristics. All other projects related to oil exploration and productions across a larger geographic context can fall under project portfolio management.

3. Construction: The construction of a single building by a construction company can constitute an entire program. However, directing plumbing and sewage requirements, plotting and installing electrical lines, and interior designing, among others can correspond to individual projects. The procurement of materials can also correspond to an individual project. All other construction “projects” or more appropriately, programs of the company can fall under project portfolio management.