More often than not, project, programme, and portfolio management are referred to as one and the same thing. This generalisation has become so common, that in some cases, the scope of work isn’t clearly defined and as detailed as it should be.

So how are these three things different from each other? Lets’ find out.

The 3 Ps: Project, Programme, and Portfolio

A Project is defined as temporary work and any undertaking that is done in a shorter period of time. A collection of projects is contained in a Programme.

A Programme is a group or a collection of projects that are similar or related to each one. This is managed as a group or as a cluster. Each Programme differs from one another, and a collection of this is contained in a Portfolio.

A Portfolio may contain various, independent projects and/or various programmes that contain projects that are grouped, managed, and coordinated together.

Now that we’ve organised and defined each of the 3 Ps, let’s discuss the different management procedures for each.

Project Management vs Programme Management vs Portfolio Management

Eariler in the article, we have defined what a project is: a temporary endeavor. Project management is handling one or more projects that are indepenent of each other and the amount of time for each one varies. These projects are handled by project managers, who are responsible for managing the deliverables, meet the objectives of the project and its completion within the alloted time and budget.

Next is programme management. While this also entails managing a number of projects, these projects are related or similar to each one. Each project is a building block that makes up an entire programme. Each project under the programme is managed by a project manager. These project managers work together to accomplish the programme goal. A project manager under a programme is responsible for the team’s deliverables by making sure that it is moving along as scheduled and stays on track. The programme managers also manages the schedule of dependencies with the other teams they’re working with, to ensure that each project is carried out in the most efficient way possible.

Lastly, portfolio management. This involves managing group projects and programmes that are designed to achieve strategic objectives for operational work and investments. This is handled by a portfolio manager who is responsible for making sure that the business is focusing its energy and resources on the right projects and investments, and making sure to prioritise projects that are most beneficial to the business. It’s more on making sure that the projects and the investments that the business is making are aligned to its overall business goals and strategies. It’s directing the efforts of the business towards the direction that will enhance, improve, and keep the business competitive internally and externally.

Overcoming Challenges Through Leadership

In some cases, however, despite the clear and distinct functions among each of the managers, there are cases where managers have a vague understanding of their roles or have to deal with a losely defined scope of work.

This can lead to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and failure in hand-offs, especially for projects with dependencies. It can hamper work progress, or worse, dramatically reduce the success rate of the entire project or an entire programme.

The success of a programme largely depends on communication and the synchonisation of the work schedule for each team. An effective programme manager would be someone who can balance the amount of work that is distributed among the teams, ensure that project dependencies are completely identified, and hand-offs are done systematically and efficiently. It’s important to understand that a programme manager’s role is a never ending process, as there will always be the need for change and improvement, both in people and business management. That said, a programme manager isn’t micro managing each of the projects under his care; instead, he coordinates with the project managers to make sure that the goals are communicated properly and are fully understood by the team, and that there is a process in place.

The process is developed by the team lead by the project manager, whose responsibility is to ensure that the project has gone through each of the phases of the management life cycle, and have passed the standards for each of these phases. The life cycle is broken down into 4 phases, and the requirements for each phase must be fulfilled before moving on to the next. Let’s discuss each of these phases briefly.

The first phase is the Initiation phase, where the development of a business case takes place, and this is consdiered the first step in this phase. Once the case has been prepared, the next step would be to identify the project scope. Once this has been accomplished, the third and final step in this phase is identifying the key players in the project, also known as the stakeholders. This is where a feasibility study is made and the project deliverables are also identified.

The second phase is the Plannig phase, where the pillars of the project are built upon the foundation. The first step in this phase is to come up with a workflow and create a document that states the flow of work. The amount of work and the kind of work that the project requires will determine the type and amount of resources needed to support the project. Gathering information is the second step in this phase and it is followed by the third and final step which is estimating the budget – this not only covers the financial aspect of the project but the time aspect, as well.

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The third phase is the Execution stage, where the plan is set in motion. During this phase, every member of the team is given their role and set of responsibilities, and are made aware if there are any cross-function invovled in their participation in the project. Monitoring the quality of work delivered by the team is continuously monitored during this phase, using an established or a modified measuring system that suits the nature of work involved in the project. Aside from the technical aspect, the financial aspect or budget management is a crucial part of this phase. One of the major responsibilities of a project manager is to ensure that the project budget is delivered and distributed accordingly, and that it is well-accounted for.

The fourth and final phase is the Closure phase, where the project is analysed from beginning to end.  Observations from the analysis are documented. These observations can be used as guidance for future similar projects, especially for projects within a programme. Finally, this phase is wrapped up by auditing the budget,  by taking into account what was used and what is left of the budget. Each of these steps must be fully documented. The information is used to gauge the overall success rate of the project, based on the benchmarks and goals established at the beginning of the project, during the initiation phase.

Overcoming Challenges

Rolling out a project never goes without its own set of challenges. Every manager must be prepared to handle any difficulty that may arise, be it with the people, the processes, and even with technology. These three areas normally overlap and each of these areas directly impact the success rate of a project.

Project management entails change, and more often than not, this is met with resistance from the people, especially those who are greatly affected by it. This challenge needs to be addressed, not with technology or process, but also by people – those who make up the management team. Therefore, it is important to have the right people in your team, as they will be the ones carrying out the process, and using the technology to accomplish the goal of the project.

However, processes and tools can only be as good as the people using it. If the members of the team lack the proper skill set or know-how , no matter how exceptionally designed the process and advanced the technology is, the team cannot reach its full potential and the project will fall short of expectations. Having the right people with the right skills, attitude, and experience makes up the overall quality of the work that the team delivers. Have the right people, and they will use the technology and observe the process the best way possible.

There’s been one too many cases where the leadership team only focuses on one of these areas at a time, and that creates an imbalance that tips the entire project off. The process may be designed well, but without the technology to support it and the right people to execute it, the process is futile.

Suffice to say that if a manager wants to make sure that the project becomes a success, these 3 areas must be considered at all times, in equal measure. And always, the right area to start is with the people, followed by the process, and finally the technology.

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