Just how important is project management? To be frank, literally nothing would ever get done without it. Every project requires some form of project management. Sometimes it’s simple, where a person just needs to list off and complete a few steps to finish a task. Other times, a much higher level of oversight is required, as potentially dozens of members of a project team need to be coordinated in order to finish on time.
All of this said, there are other business processes related to the project management process that are equally as important. Two of the most prominent of these are program management and portfolio management. Both are related to project management, but there are stark differences that separate the three, which often leads to confusion. In light of this, we wanted to help clear things up and highlight the differences of project management vs program management vs portfolio management.
What is Project Management?
First up, let’s define the concept that you’re probably the most familiar with. Project management involves the planning, coordination and oversight of a specific project from beginning to end. Project planning is quite possibly the most important step in the project management process, because it defines the budget, timelines and goals and objectives of the project. This keeps everyone on the same page, as they all know exactly what constraints they’re working with and what, specifically, they’re working towards.
Other aspects of project planning include defining the steps, or tasks, needed in order to finish the project, as well as identifying what resources will be needed. These aspects help create a plan that the project team members can easily follow, as they know exactly what they have to do to complete a task, as well as what they’ll work on afterwards. In addition, identifying resources ensures that the team always has what they need, when they need it. For example, if someone needs to use a piece of equipment, they can schedule a time to use it.
The other major component of project management is monitoring the completion of individual tasks as the project is underway. In order to make sure that the project is on schedule, project managers need to check in on the progress of each task as the project team works on them.
What is Program Management?
Program management is essentially a step up from project management. It involves a higher-level view of several projects going on in a business simultaneously. As Project Management Institute (PMI) defines it, program management is “a group of related projects managed in a coordinated manner to obtain benefits now available from managing them individually.”
Overseen by a program manager as opposed to a project manager, program management focuses on how a group of projects affects the organization’s strategic goals and objectives. This careful coordination makes achieving those goals much easier.
Now you’re probably wondering what the difference is between a program manager and a project manager. They share some of the same responsibilities, such as daily management of life cycles, risks and budget. However, instead of focusing on an individual project, program managers look at the entire collection of projects (known as the program).
One of the main points of emphasis is coordinating issues between projects within a program. As stated in the definition, program management manages a group of related projects. When you have related projects, there’s a good chance there’ll be some crossover between either team members and/or resources. Therefore, the program manager is responsible for sorting out when each project can use a resource and when each employee should be working on which project, based on each project’s plan.
What is Portfolio Management?
Technically there are two definitions of portfolio management, one of which refers to managing an investment portfolio. That’s obviously not what we’re discussing here, so we’ll go with the other definition. To distinguish between the two definitions, many people prefer to call it “project portfolio management.” (Since you know we’re referring to project management, however, we’ll continue to call it “portfolio management” in this article.)
Going back to Project Management Institute, they define portfolio management as “centralized management of one or more project portfolios to achieve strategic objectives.” By “project portfolios,” PMI is referring to a set of related proposals, projects and programs.
Similarly to how program management provides a higher level overview of project management, portfolio management provides an even higher level overview of both projects and programs. This overview helps plan for future projects. For one thing, you can get the big picture of your budget and resource allocation, which helps inform you of what projects you can take on now, and which ones you may have to wait to start on.
In addition, the bigger picture view helps you find gaps in the current project portfolio, or identify the current projects that may become a barrier to completing a future one.
Three Tiers of a Hierarchy
So what exactly is the difference between project management, program management and portfolio management? Each sits on a different tier of a hierarchy. We’ve discussed this a little already, mentioning that program management provides a higher overview than project management, and the same for portfolio management over project management. But let’s get down into some specifics:
Project management is the more tactical of the three. Projects are, essentially, just basic solutions to basic issues; they fill in the gaps that need to be filled. When you see something that needs doing, such as a software bug fix or creating a piece of content, it’s done and then it’s over. This means that project management has a defined end.
Program and portfolio management, on the other hand, are more strategic processes. Both involve the careful coordination of projects and programs that meet organizational strategies, rather than individual tactics. Because of this, they’re both ongoing processes with no definitive end.
Case Study: SelectHub’s Marketing
Let’s turn to our own marketing to further demonstrate the differences between the three. As you may know, we write blogs about all kinds of software. This means that writing a single blog, such as a BI blog, represents an individual project, or tactic. Project management takes that BI blog from ideation to publication.
Program management, on the other hand, oversees the publication of every blog that we write, not just those in the BI category. Therefore, the strategy of content creation is the program. A major responsibility of this program’s program manager is to make sure that all of the blogs cover a diversity of topics (i.e. ensuring that they’re not all BI blogs). Additionally, they need to coordinate the use of the WordPress web content management system so that an author can post their blog when they need to.
Now we get to portfolio management, which involves managing all of the different programs that make up our marketing strategy. A project portfolio manager coordinates and oversees these programs, including content creation, pay-per-click advertising and social media. This manager makes sure that they’re all aligned in order to enhance the effectiveness of our marketing as a whole. For example, they’d ensure that the latest blogs are promoted on our various social media channels.
How Can You Manage Them All?
Although project management, program management and portfolio management all represent different tiers of management, you can manage them all simultaneously. The solution: project management office software, also known as PMO software. This category of software is one of the best tools for managing every level of project management. Some of the most useful features include real-time collaboration, document management, finance management and reporting/forecasting. So if you’re looking for a way to make the management of these three processes a little easier, take a look at PMO software.