Comparing Project Management, Program Management, and Portfolio Management

This post briefly reviews the distinction between “project management”, “program management”, and “portfolio management.” This is an essential concept that must be understood as part of PMI’s Program Management Professional (PgMP) certification.

Project Management is a discipline that comprises of methods, tools, processes and best practices that a project manager uses to deliver the project and its stated deliverables. A project manager uses certain project management principles and methods such as the one defined by PMBOK to execute and deliver projects. The more mature an organization is in terms of its adoption of project management techniques, the greater return it can get from its project-related investments.

Program management, on the other hand, is the management of the various aspects of the program based on certain program management framework to deliver a program’s intended benefits and outcomes. Program Management can also be thought of as a discipline, which is comprised of methods, tools, processes and best practices that a program manager uses to deliver organization related benefits through the execution of a program. As mentioned earlier, the scope of the program is larger as it could comprise of projects and sub-programs. A program not only provides the discipline to link constituent projects to the overall program benefits and organizational strategy but it also ensures their constant monitoring and governance.

Download Gartner’s Program and Portfolio Management Maturity Model

Portfolio management is a discipline that has to do with the use of methods, tools, processes and best practices to manage a portfolio of projects and programs. A portfolio is a grouping of projects and programs that an organization sets up for the long term for easier management. Unlike a program, however, the projects and programs in a portfolio don’t have to be related to one another.

In this context, let’s review the distinction of the roles of the project manager versus a program manager versus a portfolio manager.

A project manager is responsible for the budget, schedule, cost, resources, deliverables, scope, and performance monitoring for a specific project and is responsible to deliver the project and its deliverables. A program manager, on the other hand, has that responsibility for all projects that make up of the larger program and in ensuring the necessary coordination to deliver the final business outcomes and delivery of the business benefits that the program is expected to deliver. Due to the larger scope of the program, a program manager also has the overall responsibility of the overall program governance, comprehensive program planning, and coordination of all deliveries across projects, and setting executive and program sponsor expectations.

At a portfolio level, a portfolio manager is usually responsible to ensure that all programs and projects in the portfolio are optimized to deliver positive ROI (Return On Investment) for its stakeholders.

For a detailed understanding of the relationships among Portfolios, Programs, and Components, the standard of program management by PMI summarizes the key distinctions in Figure 1-5.

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