Distinction between Portfolio, Program, and Project Management


Quite often, program success factors are not identified in advance and leave a gap in the expectations of the program sponsors and the program stakeholders. Success factors define what outcomes will be achieved and what factors will be measured for successful delivery. They are tangible and quantitative so that program managers can manage to the success factors and those success factors can be communicated to team members. Success factors must be identified in advance to ensure that the program manager is well aware of what success will look like, and how to demonstrate that it has been achieved. Many programs have failed to meet all the criteria of the effort simply because success factors were not identified in advance and some expectation was left out of the initiative.


Throughout this book, examples will be used to help in understanding potential issues that are faced by organizations. Many of these examples will come from personal experience and will be modified to ensure that no identifying information is available. However, please note that each of these cases is an actual real-world example. If a rhinoceros were to enter this restaurant now, there is no denying he would have great power here. But I should be the first to rise and assure him that he had no authority whatever.

I once had an executive come into a meeting and ignore the challenges, risks, and concerns of the group simply demanding that a time schedule or feature set be included. Experts spoke up and pointed out potential issues, project managers tried to calm the storm by interjecting logic into the conversation, and program participants adapted what was a hardline approach, crossing arms and displaying negative expressions. The result was that the executive became more firm in his or her stance, insisting that this could be done if the team were better qualified or more willing to take on the additional effort. I have even heard some executives refer to teams they have worked with in the past as overcoming similar challenges while facing more extreme situations.

Discussion Questions

The five domains of program management (strategy alignment, program benefits management, stakeholder engagement, program governance, and life cycle management) are critical factors for a program manager to stop and to contribute to the success of a program. These tools enable a program manager to open communication channels with stakeholders, ensure that benefits are identified and agreed upon, and establish control factors necessary for the component projects, providing the opportunity for a consistent set of measures to establish program progress. Without effective leadership skills, a program manager can easily alienate one of the groups and eliminate coordination communication channels. Whether it is with program stakeholders, sponsors, project managers, or team members, a program manager who alienates anyone vital to the program will face an uphill battle to achieving program success.


Project, portfolio, and program management are unique management approaches with varying strategies and outcomes utilized for achieving success. Projects are time based, consume resources, and create a unique product, service, or result. A program is a combination of projects and operational activities that together produce a result that a single project could not, and are aligned with the strategic objectives of the organization realizing predefined benefits on a scheduled basis. A portfolio is a collection of programs and projects loosely aligned and tied to an organizational strategy. The five domains are critical in the ability of the program manager to establish his or her authority and ensure a successful program. Without effective leadership skills, a program manager can easily alienate one of the groups and eliminate many of the success factors for the team. To be a truly effective program manager, you need to focus on clear, concise.


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