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The difference between Project, Portfolio and Program Management

It’s not uncommon for an overlapping use of terms when it comes to project, program and portfolio management; and they are often interchanged with the assumption that they describe similar processes. But in fact, the three terms describe three very different practices.

If we were to put them into a visual representation, it would look like a pyramid, with Projects as the base, Program Management as the middle layer, and Project Portfolio Management at the top. This is not because one type of management is more important than the other, but rather that each management requires the inclusion of its antecedent, ie. program management includes projects and project portfolio management includes projects and usually programs too. Getting confused yet?

Off the top of my mind, if I had to think of terms that are so widely confused and used in the wrong context, the winners would have to be “affect” and “effect”. While they are similar in idea, one is a verb and the other is a noun. But to make matters more confusing, there are the rare instances when you can use affect as a noun and effect as a verb, which is why you must be careful to choose the correct term for the correct circumstance.

In laymen’s terms:

Project Management is concerned with the deliverables that are often defined within a program. While programs actually own strategic initiatives, projects do not; they are however governed by strategies. Projects are tactical in nature with considerations such as budget, schedule and resources; and while they bring an organization closer to strategic business objectives, they do not focus on the achievement of them – only the completion of the individual project. As such, project management is accomplished by applying knowledge, skills, and tools, with a narrow yet deep focus, for the purpose of completing a singular project.

Program Management concerns the management of several related or similar projects. Programs are generally sponsored based on business needs, which are centred around improving organizational performance; which is why the benefits of programs are most evident when the capabilities are transferred to the line management. A program for a retail franchise for example, could be to reduce waste by a certain percentage in a given time frame. While the projects that make up the program are managed at a high-level, the successful implementation of the program will come down to the individual locations.

Project Portfolio Management is a process that is aligned with business leadership, where programs are selected based on evaluating their risks and rewards, and most of all, their alignment with the organizational strategy. Portfolio adjustments may need to made based on strategic changes, or feedback from program and project implementation. A portfolio of projects will often contain numerous projects that have no relation whatsoever, besides the purpose of serving the overall organization strategy and direction.

To summarize, here are the key differentiators:

·        Project management is the management of an individual project

·        A project can be part of a program; a program cannot be part of a project

·        Program management is the management of several related or similar projects

·        Program management addresses the management of project management

·        Programs own strategies, projects are strategy-driven

·        Project portfolio management is the management of several unrelated projects

·        Portfolios are often made up of programs, which are made up of projects

·        Portfolio management sets the priority of the projects or programs in a group

Genius Project is a Project Management software helping you managing your projects, flexible, configurable and adaptable to your organizationís business processes.

More details of this software

Publisher press

> 02/01/2017 - Interview (EPM): Kai Kršmer, a Senior consultant at Genius Project

> 25/10/2016 - AG announces their partnership with the-The Social Project Managerís Toolkit-conference

> 21/10/2016 - Project collaboration. From email to writing posts

> 22/07/2016 - Projects donít take vacations. But you do!

> 29/06/2016 - Genius Project is organizing a live webinar about project management

> 18/04/2016 - Interview (EPM): Vasily Klimko, Marketing Director at, makers of Genius Project

> 06/04/2016 - Top three indicators that youíre ready to upgrade to a Project Management Tool

> 03/02/2016 - Setting the stage for expansion

> 29/01/2016 - The PM Challenges of Email, Excel Spreadsheets and Desktop Folders

> 19/01/2016 - 8 Project Management Trends for 2016

> 09/09/2015 - Navigating the PM Software Market Landscape

> 28/07/2015 - The difference between Project, Portfolio and Program Management

> 01/07/2015 - Genius Inside wins the Top-Innovator Excellence Award

> 08/10/2014 - Genius Project at the GITEX 2014 Technology Week

> 15/09/2014 - Interview (ERP): Neil Stolovitsky - Senior Solution Specialist with GeniusInside

> 15/04/2014 - Genius Inside Named SIIA Software CODiE Award Finalist for Best Project Management Solution

> 23/09/2013 - Genius Inside Wins 2013 Excellence

> 22/04/2013 - Genius Project receives BEST OF 2013 Award in the category

> 22/04/2013 - Interview (management) - Christophe Borlat, manager of Genius Inside, answers our questions