Projects, Programs & Portfolios?

Intuity Consulting
Projects, Programs & Portfolios

The term “project management” can be viewed as rather broad, referring to any management work activity from simple short projects to the most complex implementations.

There are the “Three P’s” of project management, and each is different but related to the others. These are; projects, programs, and portfolios.

The correlation between a project, program, and portfolio management can best be defined as;

  • Project – a temporary activity undertaken by a company or organisation (such as the creation of a new or changed product, service, or result for the organisation)
  • Program – a group of projects that are similar or related to one another and are often managed or coordinated as a group, not independently
  • Portfolio – a group of different projects/programmes within the same organisation, which may or may not be related to each other


Projects fit within more extensive programs and can also fit within portfolios.

Projects, Programs and Portfolios


Generally, a project is a temporary activity with a start and end date focused on delivering a new or revised product, service, or result. 

There are projects of every size conceivable in every industry, and project managers oversee them regardless of these specifics.

Project Managers – Their primary role is to balance the scope, deliverables/objectives with the resources available to complete the project within the schedule and budget allocated. They must also do this whilst juggling issues, risks, and changes and meeting quality requirements from the sponsor or client, which is not an easy task. 


In most cases, a program consists of a collection of similar or related projects. As per a project, a program is a temporary activity, so when all the related projects are complete, the program is complete.

Project Management Institute (PMI) describes program management in its PMBOK Guide as: “a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Programs may contain elements of work outside of the scope of the discrete projects in the program.”

Program Managers – Program management is not just managing multiple projects; it is more strategic. Also, the program manager should not micro-manage projects; they help ensure the right work is completed at the right time to achieve the benefits sort by the organisation as quickly and efficiently as possible. The program manager reviews project/program benefits regularly, and if a project is not providing value to the benefits, it is realigned or removed from the program. The program manager also manages organisational change, ensures the benefits are transitioned, and processes are in place to sustain and monitor these benefits.


A portfolio is a group of projects and programs managed as a collection to achieve strategic goals. Organisations may have one portfolio consisting of all projects, programs, and operational work within the company. It may also build several portfolios for project prioritisation/selection and investment/funding decisions.

According to PMI and the PMBOK Guide, a portfolio includes “Projects, programs, other portfolios, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives.”

Organisations need to determine which projects are the right ones to focus on. Often there are limitations on how many projects can be taken on based on resource or funding capacity, asking the question, “Are we doing the right projects?”. A portfolio and processes within it to determine the viability and priority is the best way to resolve this question.

Portfolio Manager – Beyond prioritising/selecting projects and programs, portfolio managers balance the portfolio through agreed executive metrics/measures so that the right projects and programs are chosen and implemented. Monitoring and controlling is key to the process since portfolio composition is not a once-off decision, and evaluations should be performed regularly. It may be determined a project’s priority is lowered and other projects move into its place.  

This is done to ensure alignment with the organisation’s strategy, goals, and objectives. Also, it may be the case that a project or program no longer aligns, causing reprioritisation or putting it on hold or even cancelling it.

Projects, Programs and Portfolios

Project vs. Program vs. Portfolio Managers

The easiest way to explain the differences between these critical roles is:

  • A project manager works to deliver the project on-time, on budget and to the scope agreed.
  • A program manager is concerned with strategic alignment, coordinating the projects to achieve benefits back to the business.
  • A portfolio manager coordinates across all projects and programs to ensure they are on track and they are meeting the overall organisations strategic objectives and making sure the organisation has the right balance of short term and long-term initiatives in place. 

To be effective, project managers, program managers, and portfolio managers within an organisation must all understand the roles that each other plays in the successful completion of a strategic goal. Without this knowledge, there may be unnecessary confusion and miscommunication that could derail an initiative before it begins. 

Please feel free to view our Managed Services or our Project Management as a Service models
References –

Contact Intuity, to discuss your needs.

June 2022

By Mark Dunham, Intuity Consulting

[email protected]

0414 700 464