What is the Difference Between Project, Program and Portfolio Management?

I often get this question – what’s the difference between project, program, and portfolio – the triple P’s in PPP management. So here is the short answer. Portfolio management concentrates on choosing the right projects. Since projects are investment and since most organizations have finite resources, it’s important to focus and pick the best investment choices. Programs and projects are both in the realm of implementation. The definition of “projects” are fairly uncontroversial – I tend to think of projects as “temporary endeavors undertaken to achieve a specific outcome or deliverable  that is beneficial to the sponsoring organization.”

But the concept of program can be more confusing. In PMI’s definition, programs are composed of highly related projects and using program management would achieve benefits that would be difficult if not impossible otherwise. So the buzz words are “highly related” and “more benefits”. In daily lives across most organizations, the distinction of “high related” and “more benefits” are often blurred. At one extreme, a “soft program” is a collection of loosely related projects, which is more like a portfolio. At the other extreme is the “tight program” in which PMI advocates. Regardless of the situation, if you are interested in the Program Management Professional certification or PgMP®, make sure the program you describe in the application as TIGHT as possible.

While many are familiar with the roles and responsibilities within classic “Project Management”, far less is known of the intricacy and complexity of the world of Program Management and Portfolio Management.    For those interested in a detailed and comprehensive education on the range and scope of what Program and Portfolio Management encompasses, a terrific conference paper from PMI still actively makes the rounds titled, Program and Portfolio Managers Analysis of Roles and Responsibilities (Blomquist, T. & Müller, R.   Paper presented at PMI® Research Conference: Innovations, London, England. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute). – Prof. Dr. Te Wu, the founder Project Management training firm PMO Advisory is among the few people in the world certified in Project (PMP), Program (PgMP), Portfolio (PfMP), and Risk Management (PMI-RMP).