PM, PPM, PgM. What is the difference between portfolio management and project management, exactly? And where does program management fit in? Here's a quick explanation of each in plain English to help you distinguish the differences.

What is Portfolio Management?

A portfolio is a high-level view of all the projects an organization is running in order to meet the business's main strategic objectives. It could be every project across the entire company, a division, or a department. Portfolio management involves setting priorities based on the business leadership’s agreed-on objectives, and then choosing programs and projects to undertake based on what will provide optimal business value, the level of risk involved, and available resources. According to project manager Bob Buttrick, while project management is about executing projects right, portfolio management is about executing the right projects. Project portfolio managers look at a company’s projects and evaluate whether they're are being executed well, how they could be improved, and whether the organization is experiencing the expected benefits.

What is Program Management?

A program is a group of related projects that all contribute to the same business objective or benefit. The program as a whole has a clear, defined goal, and each project within the program assists in meeting those goals.
Program managers look at cross-project dependencies, risks, issues, requirements, and solutions, and may coordinate with individual project managers to achieve these insights and keep the overall program healthy. They’re less concerned with the success of every single individual project, and more focused on the success of the overall initiative and achieving the larger benefit. Program managers are also concerned with making sure the right projects are chosen or prioritized in order to achieve the most business value. Successful programs work towards improvements that will have a long-term impact on the organization, and unlike projects that have a specific end date, programs may be ongoing initiatives. Organizations manage projects as a larger program because doing so gives you greater control and benefits than you may see by managing them separately. It’s also easier to coordinate and prioritize resources across projects, and oversee progress and outcomes when you look at a group of related projects.

What is Project Management?

While portfolios and programs focus on a higher-level view of an organization's activities, a project is a single undertaking: a series of tasks that aims to produce a specific product, service, or benefit within a defined timeline. Project managers oversee individual projects, leading teams and making sure projects are completed on time, within budget, and meet the established requirements. They determine best practices, examine processes to improve efficiency, and work with stakeholders to make sure expected benefits are realized, among other responsibilities. Good project management means teams and team members are constantly developing and improving, giving the business a competitive advantage.

Learn More About Project Management

If you're a new project manager and still struggling to comprehend the vocabulary as well as the processes, then we've prepared a resource that you will find useful. It's called The Project Management Guide for Beginners, and it's online and totally free to browse. Bookmark it for easy reference.
What is the Difference Between Project and Portfolio Management?
Sources: PMfiles.com, Wikipedia.org, ProjectSmart.co.uk
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