Breaking Down Project, Program, and Portfolio Management

People often get confused with project vs. program vs. portfolio so I thought I would give a quick rundown of the differences. Below is a simple diagram showing the relationships between each word.


Portfolio Level
A portfolio is all the projects for an organization created to meet their strategic business goals. This could be all the projects for an entire company or all the projects for a division or business in a large corporation. A good way to think about the portfolio is all the projects under a PMO umbrella where a corporate could have a PMO for each business area.  The portfolio level will handle, among other things, governance around the project life cycle, standards, a document repository, and a project portfolio tool.

Program Level
A program is a group of related projects where doing them together provides some sort of benefit or efficiency. The program should have a clearly defined charter indicating the strategic goals that the stakeholders are trying to meet and the planned solution (projects) to meet those goals. The specific deliverables of each project would be defined when each project starts and should align with the strategic goals of the program. The program is usually long (think years) and the level of integration can differ greatly between projects and companies.

Project Level
A project is temporary undertaking to produce a unique product, service or result. Most people think of a project as producing something tangible, however the deliverable of a project could simple be an answer to a question. People often also get confused with a project versus operational work. How operational work differs is that it is defined by approved procedures and is not a temporary undertaking.

An Example of an Auto Company

Competitive Consumer Vehicles

Green Vehicles

Improve Engine MPG
Lighter Metals for body
Alternative Fuel using Biofuel

So there you have it. A quick overview of project, program, and portfolio.