September 28, 2023
min read
Last updated:
December 5, 2023

Project vs program vs portfolio management

September 28, 2023
min read
Last updated:
December 5, 2023

Project vs program vs portfolio management

Before delving into the details of projects, programs and portfolios, it’s important to understand why they play such a vital role in businesses. In today's ever-changing and evolving era, businesses face the constant challenge of staying competitive. Businesses need to innovate to keep up with the marketplace and, to do this well, they need to change. Change is brought about by projects which just highlights how important projects are.

Project, program and portfolio management enable businesses to adapt to market dynamics, embrace change, and drive growth. They ensure that initiatives are well-planned, executed, and monitored, allowing businesses to grab opportunities and mitigate risks.

What is Project Management?

Project management is detailed and tactical work, concentrated on the efficient execution of individual projects within the broader program structure. Unlike program management, (we’ll get on to that shortly), project management emphasises the hands-on management of a specific project.

Project managers are primarily concerned with the day-to-day operations. Aspects such as project planning, meeting project deadlines, financial management, and successfully delivering project-specific outcomes. They organise the day-to-day project activities, align resources, and delegate tasks to team members. Project managers act as the bridge between the larger program and the project team. They ensure that the project's progress aligns with the initial plan while reporting updates and alterations to the program manager. Tools such as project management software can prove handy for PMs.

What is Program Management?

Program management is a comprehensive and strategic process of organising and coordinating a series of connected projects, each contributing to the achievement of an overarching goal. 

Within the program management framework, program managers focus on the big picture. Their primary responsibilities extend way beyond simple delegation. They involve defining the program's strategic goals and objectives, outlining how it aligns with the business's vision, and shaping its impact on various aspects of the organisation.

Program managers rely heavily on a suite of program management tools to maintain transparency and control across the multiple projects. By navigating the complex relationships of projects, program managers ensure that all areas of the program work effectively together to deliver strategic benefits.

What is Portfolio Management?

Project portfolio management is a strategic process. It involves overseeing a collection of projects and programs within an organisation, all aimed at achieving high-level strategic objectives.

Portfolio managers take on the role of strategic thinkers. Essentially, it’s another step up from program management, looking at an even bigger picture of projects. Their responsibilities include defining the strategic goals and objectives of the portfolio. On top of this, they need to ensure alignment with the organisation's broader vision, and assess the impact on various aspects of the business.

Effective portfolio management often relies on a comprehensive set of portfolio management tools, which enable managers to gain visibility and control over numerous projects and programs. By carefully balancing resources, prioritising projects, and optimising the overall portfolio, managers ensure that the organisation's investments into projects will deliver maximum strategic value.

Project vs Program vs Portfolio Management: Understanding the differences

We know that project, program and portfolio management play important roles in executing strategies, helping change, and achieving organisational goals. Let's explore what sets them apart. 

Project Management: Focused on delivering results

  • Project defined: A project is a temporary venture (although a project can be very lengthy!), with specific goals, a defined start and end, and allocated resources. It's a unique effort aimed at producing a particular outcome.
  • Characteristics: Projects are temporary, with clear objectives, a dedicated team.

Program Management: Coordinating strategic objectives

  • Program defined: A program is a collection of related projects managed together to achieve strategic objectives. Programs are complex and designed to realise organisational benefits. 
  • Characteristics: Programs have a longer lifespan and aim for broader strategic goals. They include multiple projects contributing to specific aspects of the program's objectives.

Portfolio Management: Arranging Organisational Strategy

     • Portfolio defined: A portfolio encompasses a range of projects and programs managed collectively to achieve an organisation's strategic goals. Portfolios are          comprehensive and strategically aligned.

        • Characteristics: Portfolios have a more extensive scope. They focus on the alignment of multiple programs and projects to realise high-level strategic objectives.          They enable organisations to manage diverse initiatives contributing to the overall strategic vision.

Key differences between project, program and portfolio management

Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the differences between these three areas when it comes to their key objectives for an organisation.

  1. Scope: Project management deals with the planning, execution, and monitoring of individual projects, each having distinct, well-defined objectives. Program management aligns multiple projects to achieve broader strategic goals and oversees their interdependencies. Portfolio management takes this a step further by aligning entire programs and projects with the organisation's high-level strategic objectives.
  1. Objectives: Project managers primarily aim to deliver specific project outcomes, such as the completion of a product or service. Program managers focus on strategic outcomes and benefits that result from the coordinated execution of a group of projects working together. Portfolio managers oversee the alignment of entire programs and projects to achieve overarching strategic goals and maximise organisational value.
  1. Role: Project managers are hands-on, concentrating on the day-to-day execution of individual projects and ensuring they meet their objectives. Program managers take on a more strategic role, overseeing the coordination and interdependencies among multiple projects to achieve strategic goals. Portfolio managers have an even broader view, focusing on aligning entire programs and projects with the organisation's strategic vision, ensuring that resources are allocated efficiently, and maximising the collective impact of all initiatives.

Roles defined: Project manager vs Program manager

Now that we understand more about Projects and Programs, it’s important to take some time to understand the different people who manage each one.

  • Project Manager's role: Project managers are the captains of their projects. They are responsible for every aspect of their projects. They initiate, plan, execute, monitor, and close projects.

         They define project scope, allocate resources, create schedules, and manage project teams. Their aim is to complete the project within scope, time, and budget,           delivering the desired outcome. They are meticulous planners and skilled problem solvers who keep projects on track.

  • Program Manager's role: Program managers are strategic visionaries. They oversee the interdependencies and strategic alignment among related projects. They ensure these projects collectively deliver the intended benefits and support the organisation's strategic vision.

          Program managers prioritise initiatives, manage resources, and monitor overall progress of multiple projects. They’re skilled when it comes to managing complexity,           fostering collaboration, and ensuring the program's success.

  • Portfolio Manager's role: Portfolio managers are responsible for aligning entire programs and projects with the organisation's strategic objectives. Portfolio managers prioritise, balance, and manage the portfolio to maximise its value. They make decisions about which programs and projects to invest in, allocate resources, and ensure alignment with the organisation's overarching goals.

          Portfolio managers are strategic thinkers, focusing on high-level objectives and the most effective distribution of resources to achieve them. They excel in making           data-driven decisions, ensuring that the portfolio collectively drives the organisation's success. 

It’s worth noting that collaboration between project, program and portfolio managers is essential for achieving organisational success and realising strategic goals.

Project Portfolio Management (PPM) software in Project Management

Project Portfolio Management (PPM) software is a game-changer for project management. It offers project managers a suite of tools and functionalities that significantly streamline the planning, execution, and monitoring of individual projects. Here's how it aids in project management:

  1. Project prioritisation: PPM software allows project managers to assess and prioritise projects based on various factors such as strategic alignment, available resources, and risk assessments. This ensures that the most critical projects are given precedence.
  1. Resource allocation: PPM tools enable efficient resource allocation. Project managers can allocate personnel, budget, and other resources optimally to ensure projects are adequately supported.
  1. Real-time monitoring: Project managers can monitor project progress in real time. They can track key performance indicators (KPIs), milestones, and potential issues, helping them to make timely adjustments and ensure projects stay on track.
  1. Risk management: PPM software provides a structured approach to identifying and managing project risks. Project managers can create risk profiles, set mitigation strategies, and monitor risk levels throughout a project's lifecycle.
  1. Portfolio reporting: With PPM, project managers can generate comprehensive reports and dashboards that offer insights into project performance. These reports help in decision-making and reporting to stakeholders.

PPM Software in Program Management

Program management entails a more holistic view of an organisation's project landscape, and PPM software is instrumental in handling the complexities of program management:

  1. Program visibility: PPM software offers program managers a top-level view of all projects within a program. This visibility is crucial for assessing the interdependencies and impacts of projects.
  1. Resource optimisation: Program managers can use PPM tools to optimise resource allocation across multiple projects, ensuring that resources are used efficiently across the program.
  1. Risk mitigation: PPM software aids in identifying and managing program-level risks. Program managers can assess how risks in one project might cascade across the program and implement strategies to mitigate these risks.
  1. Alignment with strategy: Program managers can use PPM software to ensure that each project aligns with the overarching business strategy. This ensures that all projects within the program contribute to the company's strategic goals.
  1. Reporting and communication: PPM tools simplify program reporting by consolidating data from all projects. Program managers can create executive-level reports that provide insights into program health and its alignment with business objectives.

PPM software for Portfolio Management

The name is a bit of a giveaway for this one, but Project Portfolio Management (PPM) software is the golden status tool for project portfolio managers. It offers functionalities that significantly enhance strategic planning, governance, and performance optimisation of an organisation's portfolio. Here's how PPM software aids in portfolio management:

  1. Strategic alignment: PPM software facilitates the alignment of the portfolio with an organisation's strategic goals. It provides a clear overview of how individual programs and projects contribute to the overarching objectives, helping portfolio managers make informed decisions about which initiatives to include or exclude. 
  1. Resource optimisation: Efficient resource allocation is a core aspect of portfolio management. PPM tools enable portfolio managers to allocate resources based on the portfolio's strategic priorities, ensuring that resources are optimally distributed to maximise value.
  1. Risk management: Portfolio managers use PPM software to identify, assess, and mitigate risks at the portfolio level. It provides a structured approach to evaluating risks across various programs and projects, enabling proactive risk management.
  1. Performance monitoring: PPM software offers real-time performance monitoring at the portfolio level. Portfolio managers can track key performance indicators (KPIs) and assess the health of individual programs and projects. This real-time visibility allows for timely intervention and course correction.
  1. Decision support: Robust reporting and analytics features in PPM software empower portfolio managers with the insights needed to make informed decisions. They can generate comprehensive reports and dashboards to communicate the portfolio's status, performance, and value contribution to stakeholders. 
  1. Governance: PPM software ensures effective governance by providing a centralised platform for portfolio oversight. Portfolio managers can enforce consistent processes and standards, enhancing control and accountability.
  1. Change management: Managing change within a portfolio can be complex. PPM software helps portfolio managers evaluate the impact of changes on various programs and projects, aiding in decision-making and resource allocation adjustments.
  1. Scenario planning: With PPM software, portfolio managers can conduct scenario planning to assess the potential impact of different investment options on the portfolio's performance. This helps in making well-informed choices.

Whether at the project, program lor portfolio level, PPM software enhances decision-making, fosters efficiency, and contributes to successful project and program outcomes. In project management, it streamlines project planning, execution, and monitoring. In program management, it provides crucial visibility, helps manage complex interdependencies, and ensures alignment with the organisation's strategic objectives.

See how Fluid enables your business to deliver the right strategic change

Find out how other teams like yours are working a better day.

We’ll show you how Fluid can help your team, division, or company - no matter the size.

Fluid logo
We provide organisations with a better, easier, and more user friendly way to deliver value, adapt, change, and meet their strategic goals.
© 2024 Fluid. All Rights Reserved.