Portfolios, Programs and Projects

Project Management is attractive because it provides a logical framework to get things done. If managed properly they mean products, results or services delivered to the market on time, on budget and according to expectations. Which is pretty cool for any organization.  

Certainly, that's quite a promise that is not always fulfilled by those who undertake this kind of  challenge. This is why skilled Project Managers are critical for the success of a company. 

A good step to align the skills as Project Manager is to understand the different layers that exist between the upper level strategy and the specific tactics or operational work that is required to deliver on that strategy.

Are you able to identify these levels in your organization? Do you know which kinds of projects conform the portfolio of your company? Or do you just get very happy with every project that appears around the corner?

Project: this one is easy, it is a temporary effort to achieve a unique product, service or result. 

For example a Project to build a new home, or to make an improvement into your home.

Program: it is a set of projects, sub-programs or program activities which are managed as a single unit to obtain benefits that can't be achieved otherwise. 

For example if you'd like to upgrade or change the email messaging infrastructure in your company, that would likely require different projects to manage all the different pieces to deliver. These projects can then be organized into your Email Platform Refresh Program to make sure that the overall benefit is achieved as expected.

Portfolio: it is a set of Programs, Projects, sub-Programs or Sub-Projects deliberately chosen under specific criteria to achieve strategic objectives. 

For example if you are getting too many small projects causing high overhead with low returns, you may want to adjust your portfolio policy to ensure that you just allow in the pipe projects of a certain magnitude and expectations of higher returns.

Project Management Office: This is not a layer in the organization of projects, programs and portfolios. Instead it is the management structure that aligns the  governance processes related projects and makes it easier to share resources, methodologies, tools, etc.


- Sergio Calvo.

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